Further Reading: Bad Sheriffs

[Editor’s note: A version of this post appeared on August 23rd, 2017, but we’ll never miss an opportunity to gloat.]

Last night, Joe Arpaio lost the Arizona Republican primary, thus concluding the public life of an extremely controversial former Arizona sheriff who disregarded a court order to stop detaining suspected undocumented immigrants and was subsequently pardoned by President Trump.

Unlike current Arizona Republican voters, writers of crime fiction will always be enamored of troublesome sheriffs. To follow are six recent novels, linked to their excerpted Booklist reviews, that feature a head cop on the wrong side of the law.


The Devil All the Time, by Donald Ray Pollock

An improbably connected network of criminals and degenerates constitutes the cast of this dark novel, loosely centered on the young Arvin Russell. Arvin’s father is the first of many sad and disturbing characters. A scarred veteran, he becomes completely unhinged when his wife gets cancer and draws his son into a mad, pagan world of endless prayers and sacrifices. There is a crooked sheriff, whose sister happens to be one-half of a serial-killing duo.


The Devil’s Country, by Harry Hunsicker

Five people, three of them bent cops, are dead as this thriller begins. And that’s just the backstory. The main narrative will be familiar to anyone who remembers old western movies. A stranger steps off the stagecoach (update to Greyhound) and onto the dusty streets of a Texas town. His attempt to drink a beer in the saloon is thwarted when he’s menaced by thugs. Then he encounters the tight-lipped sheriff, who orders him out of town.





 Fallout, by Sara Paretsky

Hard to believe anything could drive V. I. Warshawski out of Chicago, but here she is, in this eighteenth series entry, in Lawrence, Kansas. The case starts in Chicago, where she’s hired to track down a missing film student and a black actress popular in the 1980s. The pair have headed to Kansas, the actress’ childhood home, to film her life story, so V. I., along with her dog, Peppy, hits the road. In Lawrence, V. I.’s search pulls her into conflicts with the military at nearby Fort Riley, with the county sheriff, and with a suspicious agribusiness with government connections.


The Far Empty, by J. Todd Scott

This thriller sprawls like the West Texas land of its setting, and, like all those arid miles, it’s fraught with mystery and echoes of a violent past. Strange lights appear, and a distant roaring is heard. The characters have similar creepy edges. Sheriff Stanford Ross rules his tiny border town like a despot and suppresses hints that there’s something odd about his wife’s disappearance.






 Here and Gone, by Haylen Beck

In this remarkable piece of suspense, the author puts Audra Kinney behind the wheel of an aged station wagon on the run with her two children, desperate to leave an abusive husband and a troubled past in New York. California, here we come! Well, not quite. Audra gets pulled over somewhere in Arizona by one of those unsettling sheriff types and is taken into custody. When she gets to the station, her kids are not there, and she becomes the prime suspect in their disappearance.


The Homeplace, by Kevin Wolf

Chase Ford was a high-school basketball star who won the games, slew the girls, and went on to the big-time, where things turned sour pronto. Knee injury, pills, divorce. Now he’s back home in tiny Brandon, Colorado, dealing with the old crowd and something he hadn’t intended. Three murders, all the victims connected to him one way or another. The obnoxious Kendall, Chase’s bitter rival in the old days and now the pompous county sheriff, is certain Chase is up to something.



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About the Author:

Eugenia Williamson is the former Associate Editor of Digital Products at Booklist.

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