One Perfect Shot
I was surprised to see a new title from Steven Havill on the mystery shelf of the new arrivals section last week. I’ve enjoyed his Posadas County Mystery Series for years, but he lets his characters age with time and his Undersheriff Bill Gastner retired several titles ago, taking part time work as a county hide inspector and seeing his protégé Estelle Reyes take over as Sheriff.
I may have missed a recent release or two and figured that Gastner had finally succumbed to high blood pressure and arteriosclerosis brought on by his penchant for green chili burritos. Fooled me. This latest one is a prequel, from twenty-some years ago, and Gastner is just showing the ropes to the newly-recruited Estelle Reyes. What fun, like finding one I’d missed the first time around. Havill’s novels are pretty straight police procedurals set in New Mexico’s border country. His Undersheriff Gastner takes up the latest mystery to disturb the sleepy desert hamlet, usually something that crossed the border or rolled off the interstate, and taps the colorful local characters as he gets to the bottom of it all.
Gastner is at bottom a sweet and decent guy; a no-nonsense, law and order type but a solid pragmatist, who knows where it is that he lives and wisely lets many things pass without being duped. Evil may rear it’s head here, but the locals are basically good people who may occasionally do sad and dumb-ass things.
The novels aren’t sexy, and they omit the gratuitous violence that seeps from many of the more hard-boiled series. Gastner is no action hero; his super power is the insomnia that sends him prowling in his LTD, coffee-fueled, along the empty roads beneath the desert stars where he does his best thinking. He has no dangerous sidekick that is a staple of many mysteries, though the local lawmen are able to take care of what rough trade comes their way.
Havill tells plausible stories with credible characters in a beautiful landscape. What’s not to like? His books aren’t roller coasters of suspense, they’re murder mysteries that are simply interesting without creeping you out or making you nauseous. Havill is an author that I have no problem recommending to my mother-in-law, unlike a lot of the grisly stuff I read.