Godless Country
Alaric Hunt
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Buy *Godless Country (A Guthrie and Vasquez Mystery)* by Alaric Huntonline

Godless Country (A Guthrie and Vasquez Mystery)
Alaric Hunt
Minotaur Books
304 pages
August 2015
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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In his second novel, Alaric Hunt pairs his two protagonists, New York City private investigator Clayton Guthrie and his sidekick Rachel Vasquez, in a thriller that opens a Pandora’s Box of murder, mayhem, and illegal activities by those entrusted with great power. An investigation turns tragic, opening the door to more heinous--and well-hidden--crimes in a twisting labyrinth that begins in Manhattan but ends across the Mexican border.

Hunt’s PI, tagged the “little detective” for his diminutive size, is on retainer with an elite New York law firm, hired to protect wealthy socialite artist Stephanie Morgan from an aggressive stalker. Her charmed life is suddenly in chaos because of a man who is not only impossible to catch but linked to another former NYC resident, Alice Powell. Powell has fled to Seattle, Washington, to escape her stalker; unfortunately, her temporary respite from fear ends with her murder. Now the stakes are higher, the client’s life in danger from a stranger’s obsession.

Relatively new to employment with Guthrie, Vasquez has learned by experience, the little detective teaching her the ropes as they go. Since their last assignment, however, Vasquez has been plagued by nightmares from a brush with death at the hands of a serial killer, her beautiful face forever altered by an attack that sent her to the hospital. Living in a tenement apartment with her Puerto Rican parents, Rachel spends as much time as possible with Guthrie, avoiding the overweening protective impulses of brothers Miguel and Indio and frequenting a club outside her brothers’ territory. It is at this club after hours where Rachel takes back the power she lost, drunken one-night stands that quiet the fear she has lived with since the attack: “Here sometimes you have to make a move in the dark.”

Hunt’s thriller goes in two directions. Most dominant is the need to stop Morgan’s stalker, who lurks in the shadows of the city, his brilliant use of technology surpassing Guthrie’s, nimble of foot and savvy enough to remain one step ahead as the circle of protection is drawn tighter around Stephanie Morgan and her husband, Peter Ludlow. The secondary but equally important issue, the appearance of an assassin who insinuates himself into the Morgan case with sudden violence, bifurcates the direction Guthrie and Vasquez must take to get to the diseased root of the case.

The protagonists are defined by their unwavering attention to detail and use of technology in lieu of footwork, while local police get sidetracked by a need to teach Guthrie a lesson in a turf war between a blundering official investigation and Guthrie’s habit of outsmarting conventional methods, with one anomaly: Morgan’s stalker, the enormous Duane Parson. Parson matches Guthrie’s inventiveness, shadowing every move the detectives’ take, even adding Vasquez to the list of his “favorites". The plot is complex, the detectives conversant with the highest levels of power in NYC and the dark alleys of the city’s underbelly. Guthrie keeps his own counsel as Vasquez seethes, still unsure of the permanence of her position and deeply unsettled by her recent encounters with Parson.

From New York City to the jungles of Mexico, Godless Country is driven by the shameful secrets of men who show two faces to the world, Guthrie determined to unmask his adversaries and make them pay for the crimes they perpetrate on the innocent. The prose establishes its own rhythm--and logic. Guthrie and Vasquez share a language only they can understand, the little detective carrying the burden of introducing Rachel to a world of violence while Vasquez battles her own demons and flirts with falling in love: “The truth was the hard went clean down to the bone.” Parson looms over all, an intimate presence even in Mexico. It is impossible not to consider author Hunt’s situation, the incarcerated author serving a life sentence, to wonder at the depth of his imagination and dedication to giving his fictional characters the freedom he has forfeited. This accomplishment is both fascinating and formidable.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Luan Gaines, 2015

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