Poisoned By God’s Flesh: A Peter Romero Mystery
by David E Knop
book review by Joe Kilgore
“Most people know the right thing to do, but the hero actually does it. Heroes keep the monster from the door. It is a matter of survival. For everyone.”
Things start out bad and get decidedly worse in this contemporary thriller that takes place on the highways, hills, and plains of New Mexico. Romero, the fellow mentioned in the subtitle, is a reservation police officer who finds the body of a young woman that just happens to be the daughter of an old high-school flame. Her death is only the beginning of woeful events that will snowball one upon another as Romero is pulled, or perhaps chooses to be pulled, into more chaos, calamity, and death than one finds in most thrillers. In fact, conflicting opinions about what Romero is forced to do, versus what he takes it upon himself to do, are at the heart of this tough-as-nails tale.
Author Knop keeps a foot firmly on the accelerator as the pace of his novel careens from one bone-crushing event to another. Even though a murder on a reservation falls under the jurisdiction of the FBI, Romero hustles to hunt for people who may be involved in the girl’s death. Soon the dead girl’s boyfriend can’t be found. Her father is drunk and looking for vengeance. Her mother is kidnapped. Illicit drugs are involved, as are stone-cold killers. When Romero’s family is threatened, he sends his wife to stay with her ninety-year-old mother and later comes to believe that both of them are in mortal danger. As Romero tries to untangle all of this, he’s bounced, broken, and beaten in more ways than the reader can count. His physical punishment is vividly detailed, as are his mental and emotional struggles to untangle intersecting deceptions that threaten to do as much damage to his mind as the rough treatment has done to his body. While bad guys are trying to do him in, and the Feds are trying to keep him out, Romero keeps getting puzzling mystical advice from a shape-shifting shaman that only the reservation detective can see. It’s frequently more difficult for the policeman to decode the shaman’s Confucius-like insights than stay on the trail of the villains who also become involved in the heist of a nuclear vehicle.
The author shows particular skill at escalating action set pieces. From Romero’s frequent attempts to escape even more physical harm than he’s already been forced to endure to gun battles that send the body count into double figures, Knop depicts violence with cinematic intensity. He also creates villains who are as memorable as they are nasty, and they’re about as evil as criminals come. His supporting players merit mention as well. From the Native American female FBI agent who surreptitiously supports Romero’s motives (if not his behavior) to the reservation cop’s long-suffering wife who is virtually at the end of her emotional rope, Knop imbues these characters with traits and idiosyncrasies that bring flesh and blood to the pages they occupy and not just in the standard ink and plot progression. The writer is also extremely adept at making the western landscape and environment a vital part of his story. He does a first-rate job of blending physical detail into narrative impact, as when he says, “On a cold night, the cliffs warmed the valley. Cottonwood and pinion flourished from the spring water. Birds and mule deer flocked to the place. The gorge’s serenity made it a nice place to live. And die.”
This novel is the second book in the author’s mystery series. Readers who enjoy this foray into the fictional exploits of a man whose inner turmoil is often as tumultuous as his occupational confrontations will likely relish the fact that there is more to took forward to in the future.
RECOMMENDED by the US Review