Dark Places

Written by Reavis Z. Wortham
Review by G. J. Berger

It’s 1967 in Lamar County, Texas, a place for young and old to easily become bored. Fourteen-year-old Pepper convinces Cale, a boy she sort-of likes, to run off and join hippies in California.  Pepper’s father and her lawman grandfather chase after them. Meanwhile, back in town, an old dairy farmer gets run over in his own cow pasture, and two men, flashing money and given to wearing suits, go missing. Sheriff Cody Parker and his new deputy, good-looking Anna Sloan, try to figure out the old farmer’s death and whatever happened to the missing businessmen. Days of hard rain from a Gulf hurricane complicate everything. Lots going on, but it works.

Wortham’s people speak as they did then – a car’s accelerator pedal is the “foot feed” – and every locale feels real. Readers will cheer for and ache with the good folks, and secondary characters hold their own. Melva, the dead farmer’s wife with her out-of-place giggling, is a scene-stealing enigma. Crow, a wandering Native American, is one clever badass. Even a cadaver-smelling Springer spaniel, brought around to help search for the missing, is authentic. The “dark places” inhabited by the malevolent perpetrators are indeed very dark.

The novel’s short chapters fit both the fast pace and the deftly spare actions and details. Some readers not familiar with Wortham may struggle a little with the opening chapters, which hop around among many characters, multiple points of view, and several locations. But the rhythm of Wortham’s writing, transporting us back in time, soon takes hold and is well worth the reader’s efforts.