My review of “High White Sun” by J. Todd Scott. (Brought to you by the letter T.)
Tremendous. Thrilling. Tense. Terrific. Taut. Triumph. Triumphant. Titanic. Tough. Tenacious. Tight. Twisted. Tip-top. Tretis. Tantalising. Tender. Talented. Texas. Texan. Trilogy?
In this fiery and violent new sequel to The Far Empty, even though Sheriff Ross is dead and gone, outlaws still walk free, peace comes at a price, and redemption remains hard to find. Some things in the Big Bend never change.
Sometimes we have to be wolves . . .
In the wake of Sheriff Stanford Ross’s death, former deputy Chris Cherry—now Sheriff Cherry—is the new “law” in Big Bend County, yet he still struggles to escape the long, dark shadow of that infamous lawman. As Chris tries to remake and modernize his corrupt department, bringing in new deputies, including young America Reynosa and Ben Harper—a hard-edged veteran homicide detective now lured out of retirement—he finds himself constantly staring down a town unwilling to change, friends and enemies unable to let go of the past, and the harsh limits of his badge.
But it’s only when a local Rio Grande guide is brutally and inexplicably murdered, and America and Ben’s ongoing investigation is swept aside by a secretive federal agent, that the novice sheriff truly understands just how tenuous his hold on that badge really is. And as other new threats rise right along with the unforgiving West Texas sun, nothing can prepare Chris for the high cost of crossing dangerous men such as John Wesley Earl, a high-ranking member of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas and the patriarch of a murderous clan that’s descended on Chris’s hometown of Murfee; or Thurman Flowers, a part-time pastor and full-time white supremacist hell-bent on founding his violent Church of Purity in the very heart of the Big Bend.
Before long, Chris, America, and Ben are outmanoeuvred, outnumbered, and outgunned—inexorably drawn into a nearly twenty-year vendetta that began with a murdered Texas Ranger on a dusty highway outside of Sweetwater, and that can only end with fire, blood, and bullets in Murfee’s own sun-scorched streets . . .
Welcome back to the Big Bend.
Fresh from finishing “The Far Empty”, I turned straight to “High White Sun”, the sequel from J. Todd Scott.
And, as I tweeted right after starting this book, I am so glad that I persevered with “The Far Empty” as that turned out amazing and because the follow-up, “High White Sun”, is absolutely spellbinding.
For me, Scott’s debut was an almost “cinematic” read; the scope and breadth of his landscape were scintillating and his characters were finely defined, each bringing their own personalities to the fore in that first tale. Each time I picked up the book, I was transported to the harsh terrain and I could almost taste the dirt on the air.
This read is no exception. Well, that isn’t entirely true, there is one exception. Where “TFE” was very good, “HWS” is very, very, very good.
The author has ramped up every aspect of his writing. It is as if his debut was merely an aperitif, a little taster, ahead of the main course which he now presents to the reader as a plate full of the choicest cuts of meat (or an alternative vegan choice for those so inclined) with a generous side dish of the most succulent of vegetables.
In this book, the author has breathed fresh life into Chris Cherry. The injuries Cherry sustained in book one seem to have galvanised him. He appears to have been forged into a man, and a sheriff, that he would not otherwise have become. I particularly liked how he has chosen to make his new home outside of the town of Murfee and close to the site where he was injured. I do not know if the author did this intentionally but it is such an effective way in which to portray the strength, resilience, integrity and determination of Chris Cherry.
Scott’s writing is by turns beautifully simple and cruelly ugly; he can evoke tension and fear quite brilliantly or he can steer the reader towards tenderness with his words. He pulls you into the story quite wonderfully. The plot is multi-layered without ever being overly confusing and we are introduced to new friends and foes who brim with verve, dynamism and life. The opening first chapter is quite something; it was so good that, while reading it in the bath, I called for my wife to come and I read it aloud to her. It was punchy, pacy and powerful and set the tone for the rest of the book.
For all its beauty, this book does not shy away from describing the brutality, viciousness and hate that pervades the factions of society that this take is centred on. A sense or realism grounded, no doubt, in the author’s own law enforcement background, really helps to cement this as a terrific read.
I enjoy stories where characters are given the opportunity to stretch out and to find themselves as their tale unfolds. I enjoy being taken on that journey of discovery with them. America Reynosa is one such character, I feel she has a lot to offer and I am looking forward to seeing where J. Todd Scott takes her and Chris Cherry as he guides us through the Big Bend.
My earlier tweet ended thus, Plot. Pace. Poetic prose. Power. Perception. Perfection. @J_ToddScott is now on my list of must-read authors.
*Read between 12th November and 26th November 2018