The Power of the Dog by Mark Salter
Salter is an extraordinary talent. He has written some terrific crime fiction – The Wild Geese and Rain – and a couple of splendid novels for children (Elvis and the Land of the Cat: A Ghost Story in Slow Motion and The Adventures of Caesar Lionheart: A Legend to Die For).
So this novel for adults is a considerable achievement – the stuff of pleasure. It’s a gothic Western, and a spectacular one at that. Our central figure is Indiana, a gorgeous young woman married to Joe (the bad guy), her younger brother Lucas (the good guy) and their parents. Joe is incarcerated for stealing a couple of scraped-up gems, Lucas for smuggling them to sell them and Indiana for having written her grandmother an interesting note. Meanwhile, Joe’s wise old jailer, Uncle Bones, has taken a shine to Lucas. Uncle Bones knows Joe is the bad guy, he knows the missives Lucas wrote in prison and Lucas knew he was the victim of circumstances and he knows the girl Indiana is as well, for when she was pregnant with Lucas she met a prosperous rancher and became betrothed to him, and then he killed himself to get rid of the baby and the mother, so as not to spoil the rancher’s chance of buying the girl for his son.
So what’s an unreliable narrator to do? If he tells the truth he stands accused of murder. Yet if he does something else, he risks exposing the lies. And then there’s Indiana’s real father, rancher who has spent years trying to trace Indiana’s true parents. There is a riddle involving an old schoolmaster, a great wolf and Boone and Crockett badges, and how the old evil Hood, who has revenge on his mind and has been sent to ask for Indiana by Joe, is revealed. But there is more, and that’s just the beginning.
It would take some poetic skill to supply all this gripping set-up, but Salter brings it all together with surgical precision. The writing is magnificent. Some readers may turn away, but I’m convinced that those who’ve never really read a piece of good crime fiction before should dive in. I wouldn’t be surprised if we meet Indiana and her real father soon enough.