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Desert Reckoning: A Town Sheriff, a Mojave Hermit, and the Biggest Manhunt in Modern California History Hardcover – July 3, 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Nation Books; First Edition edition (July 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568586086
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568586083
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #989,285 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Named "Southwest Book of the Year" by Pima County Public Library

Winner of the 2013 Spur Award for Best Western Nonfiction Contemporary

Winner of the 2013 LA Press Club Award for best general nonfiction

"One of the greatest gifts of this book is how Deanne Stillman is able to open our hearts to people we might otherwise judge or dismiss...One can’t help but be filled with gratitude and awe toward Deanne Stillman — her clear eye, the depth of her research, her brave and compassionate imagination. She takes us on a journey as full of desolation and grandeur as the desert itself." 
Gayle Brandeis, Los Angeles Review of Books

"A must-read for the summer."
Rolling Stone

“Few writers capture the rhythm and brutality of the American Southwest quite like Deanne Stillman….[a] fascinating new book….Stillman writes with such clarity, insight, and exquisite detail, one feels the chap of the heat and inhospitality of the desert on each page.  Simply put, this is crime reporting at its very best and by an author [who] is at the top of her game.  Meticulously researched, beautifully written, Desert Reckoning is a true achievement and a modern masterpiece.” 
Larry Cox, King Features Syndicate

“[The Mojave Desert] now has its own poet laureate in Deanne Stillman….[Desert Reckoning] is the most powerful and important writing about the place and its denizens since Mary Austin’s classic The Land of Little Rain….The dark tale she returns with is one of aching heartbreak and haunting beauty. It is about the terror and beauty of the GreatAmerican Desert, and of the shadowy landscape of the human soul….This fiery-hot mosaic of the book sizzles from its opening pages. Its finely drawn characters and taut narrative emerge from the ancient deserts of our dreams and make real our fears.  Deanne Stillman is a literary shaman who has conjured a violent and potent vision of our disturbing life and times—a vision without judgment, but filled with empathy and wonder. This is not natural history, nor is it true crime. It is something entirely new that Stillman has created from deep within the sun-blasted heart of the American dream.” 
Jon Shumaker, Tucson Weekly

“Stillman is a great writer, and one of the few who fully capture the sparse culture [of] our California deserts….She has enormous sympathy for everyone involved, and yet never lapses into sentimentality or melodrama.  The text rocks along like a good novel.” 
Tom Lutz, LA Review of Books on KCRW

Desert Reckoning is a compelling literary work.” 
David Steinberg, Albuquerque Journal

Desert Reckoning is an evocative, richly textured narrative that places the reader squarely amid the ranchers, outlaw bikers, and dropouts who eke out an existence in the unforgiving heat and isolation of the Mojave Desert….Desert Reckoning is written in lovely lyrical prose. It renders beautifully the lives of the lost and marginalized souls who take refuge in the desert.” 
Joseph Barbato, Red Weather Review

“[C]ritically acclaimed writer Deanne Stillman weaves an eloquent elegy of strange and twisted characters….A talented writer of literary nonfiction, Stillman writes beautifully about the Mojave, and once again makes it a character in the story.” 
Colleen O'Connor, Denver Post

“This a real life desert noir written in prose as taut as Raymond Chandler….Stillman’s book reads like a thriller.” 
Jeffrey St. Clair, Counterpunch

“Stillman has a novelist’s flair for colorful explanation.”
Rob Hardy, Commercial Dispatch

“A page turner.”
 Kevin Roderick, LA Observed

“It’s all too rare these days that a book keeps me awake at night, racing through its pages yet not wanting it to end—but that’s what happened with Desert Reckoning.
Anneli Rufus, Stuck blog of Psychology Today

"Stillman...is the voice writing about the Mojave Desert, a place where serenity and violence wrestle for domination unto eternity." 
Nancy Rommelmann, The Oregonian

“With a reporter’s eye for detail, a novelist’s sense of pace and no fear of inserting her own voice into the action, Deanne Stillman takes us through the history of Kueck’s deranged anger and the massive effort to take him down….When the smoke clears, we are left only with Stillman’s vivid images of cold violence in the hot wilderness of an American desert.” 
Shelf Awareness

“Mysterious and terrifying.”
Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Magazine

“[V]ibrant….[Stillman] does an admirable job building a full portrait of this beleaguered landscape….The result is lyrical and intense….A dynamic synthesis of Western saga, true-crime thriller and California-based transformation narrative.” 
Kirkus Reviews

“Stillman explores, with exquisite detail, the broken families and failed strivings of her two protagonists….Stillman skillfully excavates the vividly drawn landscape to reveal the desert’s mystical spirit and history of human striving….Through the lens of a griping true crime story, this beautifully written, humane book preserves the history of a remarkable and very American place and its people.” 
Publishers Weekly

“Deanne Stillman’s Desert Reckoning is a modern-day corrido, a protest ballad of lost lives and broken dreams set in the vast Mojave, one of California’s most delicate and volatile regions, a too-often-forgotten landscape beyond the surf, the stars, and the palm trees. The rhythms, beats, and chords of Stillman’s writing—brutal, haunting, and heartbreaking—bear witness to the lives of lonely hermits and desperate tweakers, outlaw bikers and tenacious cops, in prose that shimmers and aches so beautifully that it splits your soul and shakes loose your skin, leaving you speechless and yearning for more and more. With this book, Deanne Stillman proves once again why she is one of the most powerful chroniclers of the modern American West.” 
Alex Espinoza, author of Still Water Saints

“Deanne Stillman does for the ‘lonely heart’ of the desert behind Los Angeles what Raymond Chandler did for the shabby glamour of the city’s garden suburbs. You can hear dreams being broken in every sentence of Desert Reckoning. In Stillman’s propulsive, often hallucinatory account, a brutal crime and its strange aftermath expose the terrors and beauties that still inhabit the empty places that lie at the end the city’s freeways.” 
D. J. Waldie, author of Notes from Los Angeles: Where We Are Now

Desert Reckoning is a major achievement. Fusing truth with the insight of a talented novelist’s imagination, Deanne Stillman has created a masterpiece of empathy and understanding for those so often least afforded it. Nothing here is simply rendered. Stillman’s vision of society’s outcasts, the lost souls who take their final stand in the badlands of California’s deserts, demonstrates a remarkable sense of humanity and compassion. I haven’t read something this good, and so beautifully written, in a long, long time."
James Brown, author of The Los Angeles Diaries, and This River

“Deanne Stillman is the Raymond Chandler of the New West, a hell of a writer who leaves no cacti unturned, no long-dried gulch unexamined, and no abandoned settlement left be in her latest gritty, implausible-yet-too-real story. The tale told in Desert Reckoning will quickly join the same vein of Western anti-hero epics such as Willie Boy and Tiburcio Vasquez.”
Gustavo Arellano, author of Orange County and the syndicated column, ¡Ask a Mexican!

Norm Stamper, Seattle Chief of Police (retired) and author of Breaking Rank
“Deanne Stillman’s meticulously researched book takes us behind the scenes of real police work and into the hearts and minds of two men. In her spellbinding account of the murder and the massive manhunt, she leaves no doubt as to the consequences of how we raise our children, particularly our sons.”

Jo-Ann Mapson, author of Finding Casey and Solomon's Oak
“Deanne Stillman’s work is gritty and unflinching, yet filled with humanity.”

Sun Runner Magazine
“The story is compelling. Stillman juxtaposes the characters of the two men in such a way that the reader sees the essence of who they both were…. The desert dweller can find a part of themselves in this great book. Desert Reckoning is a must read.”
Library Journal
“This compelling portrait of a senseless but strangely inevitable human tragedy is certain to mesmerize readers.”
OC Weekly
“Stillman’s description is precise in its confident appreciation of the desert.”

About the Author

Deanne Stillman is a widely published, critically acclaimed writer.  Her books include Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West, a Los Angeles Times "Best Book 2008," and winner of the California Book Award silver medal for nonfiction, and Twentynine Palms: A True Story of Murder, Marines, and the Mojave, a Los Angeles Times "Best Book 2001" which Hunter Thompson called "A strange and brilliant story by an important American writer."  Now a cult classic, it's out in a new, updated edition with a foreword by T. Jefferson Parker and preface by Charles Bowden.  Desert Reckoning is based on her Rolling Stone article, "Mojave Manhunt," a finalist for a PEN journalism award.  She writes the "Letter from the West" column for www.truthdig.com and is a member of the core faculty at the UC-Riverside-Palm Desert Low Residency MFA Creative Writing Program.

Customer Reviews

I read avidly anything about the Mojave Desert, one of my favorite places in the world.
She didn't glorify one or the other, rather, she told the story like a true nonfiction writer, presenting both sides to the reader.
I have used the phrase 'annoying and distracting' twice in this very short review, which is two times too many.
Patricia Hargis

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Dan on July 18, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The author has expanded her "Rolling Stone" article about a cop killed in the Mojave Desert into a book.

To accomplish this, there is some florid writing. For me, the book succeeds more as a portrait of a small town in Los Angeles County a decade ago than as a murder mystery.

The book bounces around tremendously on the time frame--can jump back or forwards 10 years. This is not uncommon and, as always, I advocate a chronological approach as easier on the reader.

Still, all in all, a pretty good read.

The major exception I have is her documentation as to where the alleged killer was during the week he evaded capture. She cites rumors that he hid out in a massive network of tunnels under the desert. But although the author sat in the killer's home, she apparently never wandered out back and attempted to verify the reality of those tunnels. Some evidence on that issue--whether for or against the rumors--would have vastly strengthened the book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jeff Stensrud on June 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The author of this book has done some research, but there are some very flagrant flaws in facts she presents to the readers. On page 15-16 she mentions that "The army had helped....fierce battles of Sante Fe..." Historians know that Sante Fe fell without any serious firefight, at all, during the Mexican-American War! She seriously confuses the details of that war.

On page 64, "the perimeter of Edwards Air Force Base, launching pad for the space shuttle"... When? Never!!! The space shuttle LANDED there on many occasions, but never was launched from there!

Page 88, "Over time, his gerrymandered way of living...." NO! She should have used the term jury-rigged.

Page 117--1/3 of the way down the page, "...two centuries later..." She should have written "decades".

Page 151-152--Her "desert survival-water needs/skills" discussion is ludicrous. These are all over the top comments; very unrealistic!

Page 178--"That Ken Kesey wrote about in the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test....." You should probably let Tom Wolfe know about that. HE was the author of that particular book that, yes, spoke about Ken to some extent, but Tom wrote the book.

Ms. Stillman tries to write a riveting tale about the essence of the wacky and wonderful Wild West in the near and now, but reader be forewarned that you might be misled by some of the fraudulent storyline. If you're looking for a dramatic non-fiction masterpiece that also addresses the dynamics of the New West check out Last Rampage by James Clarke. An older story from the late 1970s, but is a gripping, horrific, and intimately researched masterpiece.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on July 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The Joshua tree, a type of yucca, lives only around the Mohave Desert. The blasted sands and triple-digit temperatures enable this peculiar plant to thrive where almost nothing else will. Deserts are a place for oddities like the Joshua tree, and a refuge for peculiar people who cannot flourish elsewhere, and the Mohave is a haven for "a strange brew of loners, outlaws, ultralight pilots, people hunkered in compounds behind KKK signs, meth cookers and asthmatics, those who crave quiet, and serious desert freaks who work hard at blue-collar jobs and out here where land is cheap live like kings." That's from _Desert Reckoning: A Town Sheriff, a Mojave Hermit, and the Biggest Manhunt in Modern California History_ (Nation Books) by Deanne Stillman. The author originally wrote a story on this theme for _Rolling Stone_, and has expanded it here, making the Mojave something more than just a setting, as she did in her previous true-crime book _Twentynine Palms_. Stillman lives in Los Angeles, and it is strange to think that there is a desert so close to Tinseltown, but a big part of the story here is the town's outward march, and ostensible civilizing influence, into regions where civilization may simply not belong.

Except for law enforcement and the military, Stillman writes that the Mojave is the most heavily armed region in the country. The inhabitants there in their desert bunkers are fond of their rights, "quoting the Second Amendment and search-and-seizure law like scripture, but in the end always destroyed by that American urge to go out like Custer." Donald Kueck was born in Alabama in 1950 to a family steeped in law enforcement and military service. Kueck, however, went out to Southern California in the hippie wave, married, had a son, and then disappeared into the desert.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Tiffany Hawk on October 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The murder story is compelling on its own, but Desert Reckoning is so much more than a true-crime thriller. Stillman creates a fascinating portrait of the hinterlands surrounding L.A. and their diverse inhabitants. Although the in-depth reporting on seemingly peripheral characters can begin to feel excessive, it's worth it and adds up to an unbelievably moving and powerful climax. I get chills just thinking about it. Whatever you do, don't stop before the afterward (notes on writing this book), it's perhaps more chilling than any other part.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Red Chile on September 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Reading this now. Hard to get through due to the sweetening up of so much writing. I'm deeply curious about the subject, but the writer's chirpy, overly confident tone makes me wish for a Capote type reportage style. It is nowhere near as thick to get through as the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but a surprise disappointment, just as that was. You're on own with this one, but for me, this book calls so much attention to it's writing being 'crafted' that I am dutifully plowing through it.
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Desert Reckoning: A Town Sheriff, a Mojave Hermit, and the Biggest Manhunt in Modern California History
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