After an injury blew up his once-promising professional baseball career, Prospero Stark sunk what was left of his money into a ramshackle trailer park just over the mountains from Tucson in the unforgiving Arizona desert. There, he took up residence in a battered Airstream beside a handful of outcasts who only occasionally paid the rent, and two dogs, one of whom hobbled on three legs thanks to a bullet fired by drug smuggler whose route wound down a wash not far from his property.
Stark fell into a routine of making breakfast for his tenants, caring for the dogs, vainly trying to keep cool, and ducking the occasional thunderstorms and flash floods that appear out of nowhere.
Then, one day, someone driving a pickup truck dropped a shoebox on his doorstep.
Inside, Stark found a severed human hand that, judging by its tattoos, could only belong to Rolando Molina, his catcher and best buddy during their time in the minor leagues. He wrapped the hand in a plastic bag, dropped it in his freezer, and followed the truck’s tracks through desert, hoping to find what had become of his friend. Before long, he came upon a wrecked truck and a bullet-riddled body that was not Rolando’s,
Certain that his old teammate had been killed, Stark vowed to find the body and bring it home to the Molina family.
So begins Double Wide, a new crime novel by Leo W. Banks – a book with a plot that includes a machete-wielding drug smuggler, an abandoned gold mine, a sleazy sports agent, the Tucson minor league baseball team, an aging stripper, a mountain-top ghost town, a brilliant chemist, an enormous bouncer, a thuggish body guard, a natty Tucson police detective, a terrified homeless child, money laundering, a murder epidemic, a young pitching phenom, a relentless local TV reporter, cactus spikes as a weapon, and the amazing chemical properties of the Palmer agave plant.
Out of all this, and more, Banks crafted his fast-moving plot expertly, culminating in Stark and the TV reporter not only figuring out what had been going on but concocting an ingenious plan to take down the bad guys.
The yarn is exceptionally well-written, Banks’s descriptions of the Arizona desert so vivid that you’ll rush to turn up the air conditioner, his portrayals of his colorful characters so memorable that you’ll find yourself wondering what else those who survived the tale are up to once you finish the last page.
The book is so good that it’s hard to believe it’s a debut novel, but then again, Banks is far from a novice. He has written for The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and Sports Illustrated, along with publishing four books on the history of the West. And he is now a columnist for True West magazine.
Double Wide will be published in November by Brash Books. One of its founders, Lee Goldberg, a TV writer/producer as well as a crime novelist himself, sent me an advance copy to see what I thought. Now he knows.
Make a note of this one. You’re going to want to order a copy when it hits the market.