Take a trip to the Chickasaw nation in rural Oklahoma, where mid-winter sleet strafes the washed-out wastelands and where the ancient mountains resemble sleeping bison on the horizon. Meet tribal detective Bill Maytubby and local police officer Hannah Bond, the yang and yin linchpins of this backwoods manhunt.
Ostensibly, Greasy Bend is a murder-mystery, a plot in perpetual motion chasing bad guys back and forth across remote gravel backroads. Two separate murders trigger parallel and deeply personal investigations for Maytubby and Bond. She takes a detour from issuing speeding tickets to rattle some bad guys and he starts low-key surveillance on the usual suspects. When the tarmac ends in a barbed wire barrier, Maytubby follows the trail on foot, running silent by moonlight. They’re tugging on the threads of a gun-running narcotics network – local scum raising their game with deadly implications.
But underneath all that you get the real story, author Kris Lackey’s love of language and his intimate acquaintance with the history, place and people he describes. Lackey’s deft delivery of dialect – his excellent ear for a smartly-turned phrase – perfectly captures the cadence and intricate simplicity of authentic speech. Greasy Bend oozes real-world detail; the faint scent of creosote from creaking bridge timbers, the inevitable dereliction of abandoned gas stations and run-down, rattleshack roadhouses. In clipped sentences, shorn of ornamentation, Lackey reveals a landscape saturated in history. Almost every name, every place echoes the conflicts and resolution of past generations.
For me, the most satisfying part of the story was not the all guns blazing finale (which almost felt like it had sneaked in from a Hollywood blockbuster and went on a bit long for my tastes), but Bond’s investigation which quite literally takes her into icy depths that would overwhelm all but the strongest souls. That sequence is simply brilliant, a showcase for a very credible, very competent and completely determined individual – someone who just happens to be a female police officer.
Equally refreshing, Lackey chooses not to play the hackneyed ‘rebel cop in conflict with his boss’ card. Instead Maytubby gets the quiet nod from his superior officer to discreetly carry out his informal investigation – a delicate situation, intelligently resolved without the amateur dramatics of alpha-male aggression. Small scenes like this are what makes Greasy Bend believable and give its characters genuine heft.
An immersive read, this book should prove satisfying if you’ve not read the earlier Maytubby and Bond investigation, Nail’s Crossing. But it’s better if you are familiar with the characters, so I’d start at the beginning if I were you…
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Greasy Bend by Kris Lackey is available at Amazon