The Far Empty by J. Todd Scott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When Deputy Chris Cherry finds some skeletal remains on a ranch, it sets him on a collision course with the law of Murfee, Texas in the form of renowned sheriff Standford "Judge" Ross, local hero. Ross's son Caleb carries a horrible secret, that his father is crazier than a shithouse rat...
I've read hundreds of mysteries and thrillers, so many that there aren't a whole lot of surprises left and I've gradually shifted toward horror. This one had enough twists and turns to make me rethink things.
The Far Empty is part modern day western, part slow burning thriller. "What if Lou Ford from The Killer Inside Me had a family and was a lot better at keeping his demons under wraps" is a lazy way to describe the book but that's essentially what it is. Judge Ross has the Texas town of Murfee snowed and only his son suspects the depths his father can sink to.
Chris Cherry is a failed college football star barely limping by in his old home town with his unhappy girlfriend when a rancher finds some remains on his property. Who do the remains belong to and who doesn't want them identified?
J. Todd Scott has assembled a great cast and I can't believe this is someone's first novel. The viewpoints shift between half a dozen or so characters: Caleb Ross, his friend America, Chris Cherry, Cherry's girlfriend Mel, the Sheriff, Deputy Duane Dupree, and new teacher Anne, who is carrying secrets of her own. By the end, I couldn't decide who was the most dangerous: Sheriff Ross, meth-addled Duane, or Mel.
For my money, the hallmark of a good mystery is making me feel like a rube at some point. Scott did a great job with misdirection. He was also adept at building the tension. You know the ending is going to be a bloody train wreck but it was still a hell of a road getting there.
The remote Texas setting was another thing I enjoyed, a far cry from thrillers happening in crowded metropolises. Scott did a great job at capturing what small town life is like, warts and all.
The Far Empty was a fantastic first novel and I'll be ready for the second book in the series once it drops. Five out of five stars.
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