The Right Side of Wrong by Reavis Z Wortham
The Right Side of Wrong by Reavis Z Wortham (Poisoned Pen Press, 2013) is the third of the Red River Mysteries and continues the story of the Parker family in Center Springs, Texas. If you approach this as a routine Texas police procedural or thriller set in 1965/6, you are in for something of a surprise. This book has several different agendas and trying to make a coherent whole has been a challenge for the author. We start off like a house on fire with Constable Cody Parker called out in unexpected snow and ambushed. He’s almost killed in the crash, but saved by the arrival of a newcomer to the area who shoots some of the wild and starving dogs that are lining up to eat the paralysed Cody. Just looking at that sentence captures the flavour of casual horror in the man lying in his car as the dogs fight over him. You couldn’t hope for a stronger opening but, of necessity, you can’t look for this level of intensity throughout the text. Indeed, having put Cody into hospital, Judge O C Rains orders Ned Parker to come out of retirement and keep the area running smoothly until the family law enforcement business can get back into the game. We then switch into historical fiction, changing the points of view, even including two young adults whose enthusiasm gets them into trouble towards the end. This is a fascinating analysis of life when there was still paranoia about the Russians, the Beatles were the one who had actually invaded, and racial prejudice was alive and well in the Texan boondocks. This is not simple a hangover from the old slave-owning days. It also draws its force from the prejudice against the local tribes and their integration into some of the local white families.
This is a culture on the cusp of modernity. Electricity is only just beginning to make its way into this slightly remote part of Texas. Although the townships have been hooked up for some years, the country farms are only just getting the opportunity to give up some of the drudgery of manual labour and to replace backbreaking hardship with the convenience of more modern equipment. Even the first transistor radios are popping up. Yet as these people race into an uncertain future, the past weighs them down. Moonshiners are still running their stills out in the woods, newcomers are beginning to establish marijuana production both in Texas and Mexico, and the usual law-breaking and corruption is met by local communities armed to the teeth and prepared to shoot first and ask questions afterwards. It would be a tinderbox likely to explode where it not for a paternal outlook on the part of the law enforcement establishment. There may be bad applies in their ranks but, for the most part, they keep the peace without too many dying unnecessarily.
Indeed, if you were to add up the pages, you would find the majority contain a more bucolic aspect until we get to the end sequence. Ignoring a couple of bodies and the threat of a bar fight, life is relatively amiable. But then the now recovered Cody decides to go on an absurd freelance surveillance expedition. Now let’s be clear about this. I consistently have problems accepting plots that have characters do immensely silly things. Some times, the author recovers the situation, the plot comes back on track, and plausibility reasserts itself. But this does stop getting silly. In fact, as you turn the pages, the silliness just keeps worsening. Frankly, I despair that all the good work of a red-hot opening and then the gentle meander through the lives of the people living in Center Springs, is completely thrown away. Instead of country justice bringing down the bad guys, we had ourselves a minor war. Well no matter how good the historical element and appealing the YA bits as our youngsters make new friends and embark on a little adventure, the thriller bits have to be vaguely credible. This ending is manifestly not credible. So it is with a heavy heart that I declare the plot of The Right Side of Wrong to be tragically misconceived. It’s a shame that a highly professional piece of writing should end up on such a bum note.
A copy of this book was sent to me to review.