DALLAS MORNING NEWS
January 7, 2001
Cook’s first novel rips through the state’s seamy underbelly
like a twister through a slush pit
By Bryan Woolley / The Dallas Morning News
By Christopher Cook
(Carroll & Graf, $24.95)
Christopher Cook’s first novel, Robbers, is a full-tilt boogie of a tale that wraps nearly every genre of Texas fiction into one tightly wound bundle. It’s a buddy story, a road story, a murder story, a manhunt story, a travelogue, a love story and one of best novels of contemporary Texas yet written.
The buddies are Ray Bob and Eddie, two ex-cons. Ray Bob is every decent person’s nightmare, a sociopath who robs, rapes and murders without a whiff of conscience touching his brutish brain. Eddie is Ray Bob’s pliable sidekick. He dreams of becoming a blues guitarist. Unnecessary murder bothers him a little, but not enough to free him from Ray Bob’s thrall.
Their crime spree begins on a hot afternoon in Austin, where the footloose pals murder a 7-Eleven clerk over a penny, sexually assault a couple of UT-Austin coeds, kill a cop, then hit the road in their classic Caddy convertible, heading toward Galveston, leaving a trail of dead convenience-store and gas-station clerks in their wake.
On a roadside, they pick up Della, a sort-of-pretty blond single-mom beautician who likes to pretend she’s a model. She’s on the lam, too. She hates and fears Ray Bob but falls in love with Eddie and becomes a canker on the bond between the buddies.
Pursuing this trio of losers in his red Dodge pickup is Rule Hooks, a Texas Ranger who resembles Porter Wagoner and is dealing with troubles of his own. He’s involved in an unsatisfying affair with the wife of a colleague, and he’s trying to re-establish a fatherly relationship with a grown daughter who wants nothing to do with him.
Hooks is being trailed, too, by Harvey Lomax, a small-town reserve deputy whose wife was one of Ray Bob and Eddie’s gas-station victims. Lomax, a religious fanatic with vengeance on his mind, follows Hooks in his wrecker, hoping the Ranger will lead him to the killers. Mr. Cook’s gritty descriptions of the sun-blasted, fast-food-blighted, trailer-park landscape through which the Caddy and the pickup and the wrecker travel become an oil-and-rubber scented documentary of the seedy, soul-crushing Texas we’ve all seen flash by our car windows along the interstates.
Mr. Cook weaves in and out of the minds of his five characters, shifting points of view, guiding the reader into mental places that are terrifying in their banality and evil. And his narrative moves at such a breathless pace that for page after page he has no time for sentences, as in this description of present-day Austin on the opening page:
“Austin, state capital, university town. Former counterculture magnet and slacker haven now balling the jack on a fulltilt bender. Sucking wind under the onslaught of money, a stripmall gangbang straddling the Balcones Fault. The mellow chilled-out days mere mythic history. Silicon Gulch now, hightech hysteria and the California influx, a city overrun by cyberokies on the rebound two generations after the dustbowled western plunge, returning flush, pockets stuffed with plundered gelt.”
In the second half of the story, however, Mr. Cook switches to a more traditional literary style, which slows the pace of the narrative until the two showdown scenes – in a Big Thicket swamp and a tacky Gulf Coast beach house – come across in the slow-motion style of a Sam Peckinpah bloodletting.
Blurbs on the jacket compare Robbers with the works of Elmore Leonard and James Lee Burke. It’s as good as anything either of those masters has written. It’s a book to stay up all night with.
Bryan Woolley is a staff writer of The Dallas Morning News. His latest book is Mythic Texas.