I will start by saying two things: I mostly enjoyed this novel, and I was surprised I liked it as much as I did.
This is a first novel by Jackson Hole resident Gregory Zeigler, a first novel he spent 10 years writing and then self-published. I’ve read self-published books before. So I was prepared to be dismayed.
And I didn’t love every bit of it. There were what struck me as some storytelling and plot incongruities. There are aspects of style or mood that I did not care for. And, finally, I like my adventures stripped down, a la Chandler or Elmore Leonard: I am one of those readers who doesn’t really need to know much about the characters’ ex-wives and kids.
All that aside, though, everything I didn’t like here added up to less than what I did. I read this and had a pretty good time.
“The Straw That Broke” is an eco-thriller, a story about crooks and scarce water and a kidnapping and a devious plot run by an oddball mix of weirdo bad guys. It includes a lady cop named Susan Brand, employed by the Jackson police, who joins a private investigator named Jake Goddard in galavanting around the West. They’re searching for a missing environmentalist who happens to be the daughter of an enviro-criminal tied into an unlikely but endearing cartel of evil developers.
Some of this is a bit over the top, but that’s the usual in these things: It’s not whether the tale makes sense at every turn but that you present it straight and push along.
The story starts quickly, the way these things should if they’re to grab and hold you. The plot unfolds skillfully, and the characters are vivid and handled so that you can keep a fairly big cast straight in your head.
On top of that, Zeigler’s writing ear is beyond average: He can turn a phrase, describe a scene lucidly and artfully, make a joke that makes you laugh rather than groan. There’s some chasing, some danger, some skillful suspense, a cute kid, a romance, dogs in danger, and villains of sufficient creepitude to make them both bad and honestly unsettling. Our author manages to calmly kill a few people along the way. What more could you want?
Add up the good parts and it makes for an entertaining romp from Jackson Hole — lots of local color for the local readers — and then south into the desert around Las Vegas. For those of you with a taste for the dearly departed Ed Abbey, the take on what people have done to the planet and what it takes to turn things around will find the philosophical view here to their liking.