Start with a cliché: Texas is big. Big enough for someone to start running and keep running, big enough to harbor dreams, big enough to crush them. Then transmute the cliché into narrative gold, spun from violence, bittersweet humor, beauty, and terror. The alchemist is Christopher Cook, whose first novel is a noir powerhouse: uncompromising and authentic, with darkly funny characters and prose that veers magically between grandeur and grit. Think James Lee Burke and Elmore Leonard, but think William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy too.
The bleak joyride of Robbers follows Eddie and Ray Bob, drifters bound together against a common enemy they're powerless to define (boredom, conventionality, poverty?), on a killing spree across the Lone Star state. A chance shooting in a convenience store sets the two runnin' buddies on a road noteworthy for its anonymity as well as its violence:
The twin tunnels of light the Caddy bored forward into darkness never faltered but seemed to gain no ground different from any other. The FM still didn't work, and they changed from one AM station to another as they ran out from beneath the reach of each into broken waves of static. That's how they knew they were moving. Otherwise they might not have known in that broad charcoal sweep beneath wheeling constellations.
One shooting leads inexorably to another, and another... though nothing else is sure in this breathtaking novel, which counters anticipation with surprise at every turn. The novel's brutality is matter-of-fact, but never casual. When Della, a single mother with an unusually pressing problem, joins Eddie and Ray Bob on the run, the picture gets complicated for all concerned. And the drift becomes a pursuit rich with near-mythic overtones, as Texas Ranger Rule Hooks tracks the trio from the Gulf Coast to the pine forests of East Texas. Hooks is a pragmatic loner with an uncanny ability to sense the movements of his prey: "He stood still. He was having a feeling. He had them now and then and sometimes he listened and sometimes he didn't. It all depended. Just now he didn't know. Wasn't sure."
It may be bad luck to speak of the expectations for Cook's next novel, but when one's debut is as astonishing as this, high expectations are inevitable, as is the impatience with which readers, bowled over by Robbers' speed and skill, will await the next serendipitous event. --Kelly Flynn
From Publishers Weekly
The harsh, foreboding essence of rural Texas dominates Cook's bloody, bittersweet debut novel, charting the adventures of two criminal drifters and their pursuer. From the disturbing opening scene in which Eddie and Ray Bob kill a convenience store clerk, the "running buddies" lash their way across Texas, shooting gas station attendants and shopkeepers and stealing small amounts of money and food. Young and broke, Eddie is an aspiring blues guitarist, baffled by the violence of Ray Bob, a natural predator for whom killing is not just a thrill but a calling. The boys' aimless adventure eventually includes Della, a woman who patterns her life on women's magazines and desperately aspires to middle-class respectability. While hiding out in a rundown beach house near Galveston, Della and Eddie fall for each other, much to the disgust of Ray Bob. Eddie and Ray Bob split upDEddie to pursue his romance and career and Ray Bob to continue his plunderDjust as a crafty Texas Ranger, Rule Hooks, picks up their scent. Hooks, a tracker by training and instinct, relies on modern police methods as well as his gut instincts to sniff out his prey. Cook's plot tumbles from scene to scene with jarring brilliance, the pathos of his characters lending his otherwise brutal world a certain beauty. His imagery is striking, almost lyrical: on a warm day, the sun floats in the sky like "a warm dab of butter." This gritty crime drama is not for the faint of heart, but Cook's prose sets it a notch above many like novels. The publisher compares the book to the work of James Lee Burke; if booksellers push that comparison, or if they aim the title at a hip, youthful readership, it could make out like a bandit. Foreign rights sold in the U.K., France and Japan. (Dec.)
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