John Salter tells us that he didn't even know he was writing a mystery when "Big Ranch" won a spot in Best American Mystery Stories, 2001. That may be, but he's written not only some compelling mysteries for this collection, but compelling characters, situations, and plots. Alberta Clipper's grit echoes work by writers such as Cormac McCarthy and William Gay, and by moving the collection's locale into the Great Plains, Salter has added the chill of winter to reify that tone and theme. But just as William Gay tosses a sardonic humor into the mix, so does Salter, to leave us shaking our heads at the ridiculous tragedy presented in, say, three characters so twisted in their own worldviews that they can't decipher and obvious plea for help ("Three Drum Theories"). These are biting stories, though, and the humor alleviates, but never masks that single fact.
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