Raymond Turner has a problem. The New Orleans-based private investigator crawled into a bottle when his wife died and has only crawled out with considerable effort and grace on the part of his partner.
The town of Comanche, Texas has a problem. Over one hundred and thirty-five years ago several townspeople killed the Piney Woods Kid and desecrated his corpse. Now the ghost of the Piney Woods Kid is exacting his revenge on the descendants of those townspeople, haunting the grounds of the historic depot where his body was dismembered—newly renovated and opened as a diner by the town mayor.
Fortunately, the mayor’s wife is Turner’s sister. Turner’s chance for redemption is Comanche’s chance for salvation.
Turner, his partner LeBlanc, and McDowell, the psychic they frequently consult with, decamp New Orleans for west Texas. They aren’t licensed in Texas and won’t be able to collect a fee, but when family calls you have to go. Things won’t be easy, though. They have a strong-willed, independent-minded group of Comanche residents to worry about. C.W. Roark, the mayor and owner of the depot, isn’t interested in anything that might scare tourists away from the upcoming Pow Wow or that involves the brother who did his wife so wrong. And then there is the small problem that a real ghost is the last explanation they are going to consider.
At some point, though, you have to believe your own lying eyes. And how else do you explain wounds that look just like bullet wounds but leave no external damage or, for that matter, any bullets.
There is a big cast of characters to keep track of, but even the minor characters are a highlight of the book. Turner dealing with his own pain and the lure of the bottle while getting back on the P.I. horse is at the heart of the book, but everyone has their own story.
The Piney Woods Kid is creepy enough, I suppose, but Riley doesn’t lean on the horror aspects. In the end, it is going to come down to a big set piece with lots of gunfire (as befits a neo-Western setting, I suppose). It may not be to your taste, but I certainly enjoyed it.
Only a few stylistic choices detract from the book. Characters (and there are a goodly number of them) are inconsistently referred to by first or last name across dialogue and non-dialogue, sometimes making it more difficult than necessary to keep track of everyone. Riley’s use of the term “Latinx” is incongruous. A strong sense of place is a hallmark of country noir. Using a term used by 3% of U.S. Hispanics, and probably no one in Comanche itself, disassociates the book from its setting. Finally, Riley’s choice to forego quotation marks isn’t distracting or confusing, but it also doesn’t enhance the storytelling (if you want to emulate Cormac McCarthy, more than dropping some punctuation is necessary).
4 of 5 Stars.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary, advance copy of Comanche through the Amazon Vine program.