This rural American police investigation is a sheer delight, conjouring characters as credible and a situation as intriguing as you’ll find in James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series. Here the hook is somewhat different: we follow Detective Maytubby of the ‘first people’ Chickasaw Nation as he plunges barefoot into a rough and tumble murder manhunt which writhes through the summer-seared landscape of scorching Oklahoma, across the southern States and into the Cajun country of the Louisiana swamps.
Yet despite being influenced by his tribal ancestry, Maytubby is a thoroughly modern cop. He follows his nutritionist girlfriend’s dietary advice, skips the honey-roast ham, grits and pancakes, and flicks between google streetview and GPS to chase down his methhead prey through parched trailer parks and along bone-dry stream beds.
In rapid fire, sharp and stylish prose, author Lackey plunges the reader straight into the action. Maytubby and female trooper Hannah tear across the reservation, seeking a pitiless stone-killer. Their interactions are beautifully choreographed, not least her joyful teasing about their different eating habits. The author has brought a half dozen new people into the world and given them depth and precision, and just enough flaws and quirks to make them intriguingly realistic.
Comparing any novelist to JLB is giving it big licks and, in fairness, Lackey’s writing is nowhere near as densely detailed as Burke’s. He shows without telling, rarely slows the pace, and the result is that the pages rattle by with alacrity. Comparisons with Cormac McCarthy are inevitable – but Lackey’s writing has a less artificial, more naturalistic flow to it. He brings a sense of place and time into existence with genuine skill; you can almost smell the burning asphalt and hear the whine of over-worked air-con units. You also get a snapshot of the peculiar municipal / policing situation without being beaten over the brainpan by tribal politics or social history. Just a few mentions hither and yon inform the story and the characters – like the notion of ‘civilised’ native Americans… who were the ones who owned slaves, back in the day.
There are a few genre regulars, just to remind you that this is a crime thriller – the corrupt politician, the killer turned stalker, the cross-country chase, the creepy preacher – but there’s also plenty of novelty and more than a few ‘didn’t see that coming’ moments. This degree of expertise would be welcome from a seasoned writer: it’s all the more astonishing in a debut novel.
When Nail’s Crossing reached its entirely satisfying conclusion, I would’ve bought then next in the series straight off the bat. Except there isn’t one. Yet. Get going, Mr Lackey. I’m waiting.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Nail’s Crossing by Kris Lackey is initially available as an ebook or hardback
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