Dead Horses: A Peter Romero Mystery
“‘They’re haters, both sides are waiting for an excuse to shoot,’ he said. ‘Your crazy-ass story will just get `em riled up. One shot and a full-blown firefight breaks out.'”
In times gone by, there were plenty of reasons the West was referred to as wild. The present, however, does not take a back seat to the past where action and adventure are concerned in this rough and tumble tome of turbulent times in contemporary New Mexico and Colorado. Author Knop makes today’s West come alive with vivid characterizations, authentic place setting, intricate plotting, plus a respect for the land and its inhabitants that comes across as absolutely sincere and not simply tacked on for politically correct purposes. His depictions of modern-day Native Americans encompass their very real struggles with today’s problems while acknowledging their connections to the sacred ways of their ancestors. This odd dichotomy of ancient races living and working in modern times infuses Knop’s story with additional insight and interest woven from an intense study into his literary cast. He knows his characters, how he wants to honestly depict them, as well as the engaging scenarios he wraps around them. The author is working at the top of his game, as both his narrative and the way it is told grab readers early and hold them tight until the very end.
In Knop’s tale, an odd case of livestock murder in one state begins to snowball into malevolent goings-on in another as a lawman is pulled into one remarkable scrape after another. Before you know it, past atrocities are being cited as justification for upcoming disasters that threaten to wreak havoc on not just evil doers but the innocent as well.
Peter Romero is a Tribal Police officer in New Mexico. He’s an ex-Marine who’s been plying his trade as a reservation cop for years. No longer a drinker, he will soon no longer be a husband. His wife has filed for divorce because she believes he’s invested much more of himself in his job than their marriage, and he can’t honestly disagree. While that weighs heavily on his conscience, it doesn’t appear that it’s apt to change anytime soon as Romero finds a dead Arabian horse who has been shot and abandoned. He wonders who would kill such a beautiful—not to mention expensive—animal. His curiosity is kicked into hyperdrive when he finds out this isn’t the only Arabian who has recently been stolen, then killed. Romero cannot devote himself full-time to these slayings, however, as a childhood friend and his son are soon found brutally murdered on his reservation. The FBI takes over and thwarts his initial investigation into the murders, but Romero isn’t about to back off entirely. Unfortunately, the cases of dead horses and dead friends are only the beginning. Soon he’s confronted by a career criminal who wants him to find the man’s missing daughter. Also, his cherished truck is apparently stolen. Adding to the chaos, a Ute police officer is shot and killed, a sheepherder is murdered, two young Asian hikers are found dead, and Romero is neck-deep in potential hate crimes.
While the aforementioned big picture is unfolding, Romero manages to wade into all of it. For his troubles, he becomes a potential meal for a pack of wolves, the ragdoll of a ferocious grizzly bear, and a prime suspect in the killing of a police officer. The fact that rogue officers were trying to kill him is apparently no excuse, and he finds himself in and out of lockups and on the run from one set of authorities while attempting to help another. In the middle of all this, Romero manages some respite in the arms of a woman he’s supposedly working for, as well as conversations and interpersonal relationships with animals who may actually be skinwalkers, shapeshifters, or even spiritual deities.
Believe it or not, Knop is a writer who makes all of this work. His prose is sharp, the pace swift, and the plot and its subsidiaries are crazily credible. The author’s dialogue is spot-on, and his action sequences (of which there are many) are taut, suspenseful, and scarily real. His characters are not at all cardboard cutouts. They come across as living, breathing, and sometimes odiously reeking individuals who are either solid citizens or malcontented miscreants one would never want to encounter outside the pages of a book such as this. In essence, Knop’s novel is a lively read that fans will be in no hurry to put down. Knop is a noteworthy writer who has the ability to make reading rousingly entertaining.
RECOMMENDED by the US Review, Joe Gilgore reviewer