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High White Sun


High White Sun

If you like your thrillers hot and dusty, then it is absolutely imperative that you read HIGH WHITE SUN. J. Todd Scott’s sophomore effort is as dark and dry as it gets, and is frighteningly real as well. The plot is complex and contains many moving parts that don’t always perfectly mesh --- just like life --- but capture the crime and violence at the southern border of the United States with an unfiltered high-speed shutter.

HIGH WHITE SUN picks up some months after the conclusion of THE FAR EMPTY, Scott’s debut novel. The setting --- Big Bend County in West Texas (which, in the real world, is a geographical designation more than an actual place) --- is the same, as are a number of the characters. It is helpful, though not (entirely) necessary, to have read what has gone before in order to fully appreciate this follow-up. Nevertheless, Scott does an admirable job of bringing newcomers into the fold.

"Scott’s characters carry the day into the final quarter of the novel... This is border noir at its best."

Following the events of THE FAR EMPTY, Chris Cherry is now the top sheriff of the county, even as he struggles with his own self-doubt and the psychological trauma of a near brush with death. The story in the book’s present begins with one of Chris’ deputies being seriously injured in a hit-and-run incident, the reasons for which reverberate throughout the novel. The department isn’t exactly personnel-rich to begin with, and two of Chris’ other choices for deputies are somewhat controversial. One is America “Amé” Reynosa, who is concealing family ties, as well as a secret stash, that may come back to haunt her as well as the sheriff’s department. The other is Ben “Harp” Harper, a veteran sheriff who has forgotten more than Chris is ever likely to learn in the near term. Harper, who is retired, has reluctantly returned to law enforcement following the death of his wife, but his blood alcohol content makes him unsteady, though still reliable.

The department experiences a bit of a baptism when a local guide is found with his head caved in on the blacktop of the parking lot of a lean-to bar. The deceased, who had been seeing a Mexican woman, had exchanged words with some bikers, who turn out to be part of an Aryan Brotherhood group ensconced in a nearby town. This would be bad enough, but the leader of the gang is John Wesley Earl, who has spent more of his life in prison than out. Earl, his racism notwithstanding, does business with a Mexican cartel and deals with other sources. What he doesn’t realize, though, is that he has more than one traitor in his midst, so that even as he double- and triple-deals, he is contemporaneously reaping what he is sowing.

Meanwhile, Chris’ local department is getting caught crossways with state and federal law enforcement, each of which has its own interests and territory to protect and is willing to sacrifice the Big Bend law enforcement officers to achieve its own ends. The machinations of all on both sides of the law lead to a series of violent and fatal conclusions that resonate all the way to the end of the book, which could set the stage for a sequel on a high note of hope, not to mention rough justice.

HIGH WHITE SUN takes a while to get moving, but Scott’s characters carry the day into the final quarter of the novel, where alternating points of view skid across a number of violent tableaus, ultimately resolving (most of) what has gone before. Not everyone makes it to the end --- there are some surprises that go with that --- but it just makes the book, and the characters, all the more real. This is border noir at its best.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 23, 2018

High White Sun
by J. Todd Scott

  • Publication Date: June 4, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
  • ISBN-10: 0399183477
  • ISBN-13: 9780399183478