Putnam/Penguin, $26.00, 425 pages, ISBN 978-0-399-17634-0
This week’s MBR is written on the day after what’s already being called The most dramatic Super Bowl ever played: number LI, or fifty-one in Arabic numerals. It was the greatest comeback in playoff football history . . . and an apt comparison to what has to be one of the best, and most dramatic noir debut novels about a man coming back to his old home town, only to find systemic corruption, official malfeasance and rampant disregard of sworn duty by an entrenched, duplicitous, iron-fisted county sheriff who lords over the small Texas border town of Murfree like a Medici prince.
The Far Empty, by J. Todd Scott takes place in what’s known as big bend territory—the empty desert southeast of El Paso, defined by the Rio Grande River, which is the border with Mexico. Because the area is so remote, so isolated and so thinly populated, it’s a favored place for smugglers, of drugs and humans, as well as a magnet for law enforcement types trying to stem the flow.
The narrator of the story is a seventeen-year-old boy named Caleb Ross, whose mother suddenly and mysteriously disappeared a little more than a year ago. No trace of her has ever been found and Caleb, the son of longtime County Sheriff Stanford “Judge” Ross, is convinced that his father murdered her. When Deputy Chris Cherry uncovers a body in a shallow grave out in the most remote part of the county, Caleb is convinced it’s the remains of his missing mother. Deputy Cherry, whose promising football career was cut short by a devastating knee injury, has come home to the place he grew up in . . . the same small town he’d been trying to escape from his entire life . . . where he takes the only available job, and finds he’s made a deal with The Devil . . . who may not let him live to tell the tale.
The Far Empty is an astonishing debut, written in elegant prose by an author with more than twenty years of law enforcement experience along the southern border. His eloquent, and evocative descriptions of time and place, characters and events, are as sure and gifted as a much more seasoned writer and leave the reader with an unstated promise of even greater works to come. J. Todd Scott is a wordsmith to pay attention to. He’s kicked off his career with his head and shoulders far above the rest of the crowd—and we’re looking forward to seeing what he comes up with next!