Death on the High Lonesome
Frank Hayes
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Buy *Death on the High Lonesome (A Sheriff Virgil Dalton Mystery)* by Frank Hayesonline

Death on the High Lonesome (A Sheriff Virgil Dalton Mystery)
Frank Hayes
304 pages
October 2015
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Hayes evokes the mythology of our Southwestern heritage in a drama set in Hayward, a town notched into the desert landscape. Life seems to move at a slower pace in Hayward, though there are signs of change. Nowhere is safe from the prodding of progress, the culling of resources, and entrepreneurial greed. Grown children leave, seeking other opportunities and different futures than ranching and small-town problems, all subject to time and attrition. Sheriff Virgil Dalton straddles past and present, a man in touch with his place in the world and the regrets of roads not taken. Small-town law enforcement is handled by a relatively small staff, though the drug culture has begun to spread its tentacles into the desert, bringing unsavory elements and crime in its wake.

One night, a patrolling deputy drives through an underpass, the empty interstate stretching before him, when a woman’s body crashes into his windshield, pushing the vehicle off the road and down an incline. For a time, Virgil is stymied, unable to identify the victim or find an explanation for her death. He has to wait for more information, content for now with speculation: “The person she was running away from. That’s who I think killed her.” Soon after, elderly Velma Thompson is found dead on the porch of her house at the High Lonesome ranch, her husband not yet returned from a ride to the highest and most rugged section of the ranch. With two grown sons long since turning their backs on the family legacy, the ranch has been scaling back, only the Thompsons and a couple of ranch hands left to do the work. When Velma’s death is determined a homicide, Dalton decides to search for the old man, who is still gone. The couple’s daughter, Marian, pleads to accompany the sheriff, wanting to break the news of Velma’s death to her father. Marian has returned for Velma’s funeral, still disappointed that her father saw no place for her at the ranch.

The mystery builds slowly, fragments of information yet to explain the recent deaths, the young woman’s identity and Velma’s murder weighing on Virgil’s mind, a pattern not yet settling into clarity. But what Dalton and Marian discover on the highest reaches of the High Lonesome is deeply disturbing, yet another element of trouble unfolding. Meanwhile, Virgil tends to the ebb and flow of business in the sheriff’s office, answering calls and covering shifts as a handful of quirky characters serve the town of Hayward, a mixture of eccentric folks who thrive in the desert landscape and those in search of opportunity, some of it criminal.

Dalton’s personal life is a blend of memories and hope. After saying goodbye to Ruby, a lover with a troubled history, Virgil learns he has a daughter, Virginia, with a woman he loved years ago. He is grateful for the loyalty of those he works with, finding solace and respite at his own small ranch after a long day at work. Respecting the beauty and demands of his environment, Dalton is a consummate lawman much like Craig Johnson’s Longmire, a vanishing breed. The sheriff treads the far country of the Southwestern landscape in a cacophonous era where solitude is a common thing and trouble, when it comes, is brutal. The desert absorbs everything, the light of each bright dawn, the stunning sunsets and star-filled nights oblivious to human endeavors. Hayes stakes his claim with each new Virgil Dalton tale, a series that captures the rugged spirit of a man who thrives in a land of breathtaking beauty and shocking violence.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2015

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