by Ben Rehder
The third Blanco Country mystery. In this episode of game warden John Marlin’s adventures in law enforcement, a corrupt hunting guide named Duke Waldrip kills an angry client who demands a refund after discovering his mounted head was faked; the country goes loco after a chupacabra sighting makes national news thanks to a less-than-dignified gossip show’s attention; loveable redneck crooks Billy Don and Red try to catch the goat-sucker with typically amateurish planning; a man specializing in Asian midget porn procures some deer antlers as an aphrodisiac for an unconfident star; and someone has been illegally shipping in and shooting exotic animals (which just might explain the chupacabra sightings).
It’s another strong entry in Rehder’s series – not actually a mystery, since the murderer is known from the beginning (except for a small twist at the end) and it’s pretty clear what the chupacabra actually is – but it’s a great amount of fun. The criminal is both dumb and devious; the hillbillies are self-centered, goofy and endearing; Marlin is an everyman, unlucky in love but optimistic, who doesn’t want to solve homicides but deep down enjoys the thrill. As Rehder brings the disparate plot lines together and apart and together again in brief, staccato flashes of drama and chaos (the porn plot thread impacts the case only tangentially but quite viscerally), the madcap energy keeps the pages turning. Comic madness plus suspense equals enthralling.