Book Review: High Country Nocturne by Jon Talton

High Country NocturneHigh Country Nocturne  
A David Mapstone Mystery #
Jon Talton
Poisoned Pen Press, June 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0398-5
Also available in trade paperback

Author Jon Talton hails from a multi-generational line of Arizonians. As such he is privy to the historical development of the state. In 1915 the US Census registered fewer than 7,000 residents. In 2015, more than seven million. Lots of changes in that time. Most of them make Talton unhappy. His unhappiness occasionally gets in the way of a powerful, nuanced and complicated tale of murder and mystery.

Talton is a fine writer and you’ll realize it from the beginning. His sensitivity and understanding of more subtle pressure points in the relationship between Maricopa County Deputy Sheriff, David Mapstone and his wife, Lindsey, provide both complications and additional rhythm to this story.

Yes, Mapstone is still in Phoenix, first as a private investigator after his friend and former boss, Sheriff Mike Peralta, is defeated in the most recent election. Almost nobody likes the new sheriff in town and Mapstone is suspicious when the man coerces Mapstone into regaining his job as a deputy. This is particularly odd because Peralta is on the run, hotly pursued by an assortment of law enforcement types for stealing a large consignment of unset diamonds he was supposed to be guarding. It’s also an interesting development because it has unforeseen consequences for the new sheriff.

Nevertheless, and against his better judgement, Mapstone takes the badge and starts an investigation into a suspicious thirty-year-old death. Meanwhile, Peralta is still missing, Peralta’s wife is agitating Mapstone and vague accusations against Mapstone’s wife are clouding the picture.

The writing is clean, the characters are well delineated and separate and the pace relentless. Talton has a fine sense of when to insert emotional scenes that are important to readers’ understanding of character motivations and to readers invitation to bond with the attitudes of the protagonist, not just in relation to the crimes involved, but to the ongoing changes in the landscape of Arizona. And these are changes that the author resignedly accepts but not willingly. In some ways the novel is a plea for a return to older, simpler values.

Like others in the Mapstone series, the story winds up to a thrilling and tense solution. It’s well worth the ride and as a bonus, offers a look at some troubling aspects of modern Arizona.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2015.
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.