High Country Nocturne is the seventh book in Jon Talton’s David Mapstone mystery series. Mapstone, the central character in the book is the kind of compelling, complex figure that any long running series needs. An Arizona native, he had worked for the sheriff’s office investigating cold cases, but left the job when the sheriff, a Latino, was voted out of office. He and the sheriff are now working together as private investigators.
Moreover, he is an ex-professor of history who failed to get tenure because he lacked a lengthy list of publications. He is steeped in local and state history and upset with the region’s overdevelopment. This reasonably enables Talton to spice his story with tidbits about Arizona history, references to WWI poets, and regional archeologic relics. Finally, he functions on a human level. He is good at what he does, but he is no superman. He makes mistakes and gets into trouble, so there is always the possibility that a time will come when he is unable to get out of that trouble.
In the current thriller, Mapstone is dealing with accusations that his partner, Mike Peralta, has stolen a shipment of diamonds he was supposed to be guarding and shot one of his fellow guards in the process. Mapstone is certain that Peralta must be involved in some sort of undercover operation, and he sets out to clear his name. In the process he is blackmailed by the current sheriff, a political hack he has no use for into returning to the office to work on a cold case; he has to deal with a dangerous hit-woman, a gaggle of FBI agents all with different agendas, and an attack on his wife. It is the kind of well-structured, many faceted plot that keeps the reader happily turning pages.
Add to this a definite political point of view, that Talton is not shy about expressing. It is not only Mapstone’s passion for the Arizona that used to be, much of it lost in the massive building boom, or even his rejection of the political pandering on the subject of illegal immigration. He recognizes that the problems are there, but they need more carefully thought out solutions than are currently on the table. He is quite aware of the problems of climate change, and he is also aware that it is not something that can be talked about without losing friends. Still, if Mapstone has qualms about sharing what is on his mind, Talton manages to overcome them.
High Country Nocturne is an exciting thriller that will make for an excellent summer read.