Cover image for High lonesome road
High lonesome road
Thornton, Betsy.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Thomas Dunne Books, [2001]

Physical Description:
233 pages ; 22 cm
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In her debut novel, The Cowboy Rides Away, Betsy Thornton amazed reviewers with her vivid description of Cochise County, AZ and the people who live there. Now five years later readers are taken back to the harshness of the desert and to Chloe Newcomb, a victim advocate with the Cochise County Attorney's Office. Chloe's responsibilities include counseling those who have witnessed an act of violence or whose lives have been affected by violence.Her latest assignment is to counsel a woman who found the body of the county's bookmobile driver riddled with bullets.Chloe has been on calls like this before, but she is not prepared for the shock of knowing the victim. Erica Hill, a flamboyant and independent woman, was once a friend of Chloe's beloved deceased brother. Chloe hadn't seen Erica in years until a few months earlier when Erica showed up at one of her volunteer training sessions. Full of guilt over not keeping in touch with Erica, Chloe embarks on an independent investigation. Her search involves Erica's teenage son, her jealous sister and a defense lawyer who seems to take an overly strong interest in the case.What Chloe discovers is a secret so dark that even after Erica's death it still has the power to damage the lives of everyone around her. AUTHORBIO: Betsy Thornton lives in Bisbee, Arizona, where she works for the Cochise County Attorney's Victim Witness Program as a victim compensation advocate and a victim advocate.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Following her impressive debut, The Cowboy Rides Away (1996), Thornton triumphs in this sequel, which makes even minor characters memorable and firmly places them in the stark but weighted atmosphere of the Southwest desert. Chloe Newcombe, a victim's counselor for the Dudley, Ariz., police department, is reluctant to reconnect with bookmobile driver Erica Hill, because Erica was an old friend of Chloe's dead brother, James. Weeks later, after someone shoots Erica in her bookmobile, Chloe wonders if a phone call from her could have saved the woman's life. Feeling culpable, Chloe starts to investigate and discovers that Erica had been reaching out to many in her last days. Although the police are holding Erica's golden son, Troy, Chloe can't believe the teenager had anything to do with his mother's death. And Stuart Ross, the ponytailed defense attorney, didn't admit his past relationship with Erica, but that doesn't mean he killed her. The more Chloe digs, the more she realizes that the strong, free-spirited Erica antagonizedDas well as intriguedDjust about everyone she met. As Chloe closes in on the killer, she feels the strain of an earlier death she inadvertently participated inDcommitted by a man she once loved. The refusal of the author to neatly tie up that earlier event is one of the many strengths of this book. Its ability to succeed as both a mystery and character study is certainly another, and if Thornton, a victim's advocate in Bisbee, Ariz., can be persuaded to produce books more regularly, she could establish herself as a major new voice. (Mar. 5) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The author of The Cowboy Rides Away returns to Dudley, AZ, where protagonist Chloe Newcomb, a licensed private investigator but part-time victim's advocate for Cochise County, considers the case of murdered bookmobile librarian Erica Hill. Chloe investigates the apparently premeditated murder for several reasons: she knows Erica from a previous life as her deceased brother's best friend, police seem to be suspect Erica's teenaged son, and another female library employee disappears. Ably described scenery, realistically uptight heroine, and tantalizing plot detours add up to a strongly recommended choice, especially for patrons who like Southwestern mysteries. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One SHORTLY AFTER A FRIEND OF MINE, SHERIFF'S Department detective Kyle Barnett, killed a man and was transferred up to the Willcox area, I switched jobs from victim-compensation advocate to victim advocate. I'd moved to Dudley, Arizona, from New York City a couple of years before, and it was about time to get a little more financial security. The new job was only twenty hours a week, but it paid better; plus, I got full benefits. It was one of those part-time jobs that could easily stretch to thirty, forty hours, but I was supposed to keep track, and not work more, so I couldn't come back and sue the county. I was fighting depression, and the job was just what I needed. And when I worked more, I didn't write it down. I worked as hard as I could so I could go home and fall asleep, exhausted. But sometimes I still woke up at three in the morning to think about Kyle and the things I knew about him that no one else did and the things he knew about me. No one had even questioned me during the investigation, an investigation that had not made it to a grand jury. No one had questioned me, though I was the last person, before Kyle, to see the man he'd killed alive. Bobbie, Kyle's sister, didn't question me, either, but I thought if anyone would know something she would. She volunteered for the Victim Witness Program, and we were pretty good friends, but we never spoke about what had happened. What would be the point? He'd been a bad man, deserved to die. "Don't wimp out on me, Chloe," Bobbie would have said. One of the things I did in my new job was teach the nine-week training course for volunteers in the northern, sparsely populated part of the county, where Kyle had been transferred. When I drove through the little towns and down the long, empty roads through the fertile fields and grasslands of the valley to Willcox, where I taught the class, I looked for Kyle, looked for him straight ahead and in my rearview mirror, looked for him when I passed the sheriff's substation as I drove into Willcox, but I never saw him. Maybe that was because he always saw me first. Then after he separated from his wife, resigned from the Sheriff's Department, and left the county, I still looked for him, not on the long high-desert roads, but late at night, three o'clock in the morning, when I woke in my house in Old Dudley and heard my heart going tick, tick, tick. I grew up with two brothers, Danny and James. Danny, the youngest, was a wild boy, and he now lives in a Buddhist colony in Vermont. The eldest of us, James, is dead. Years ago, I visited James when he lived in Venice, California. He was strong and happy and healthy then. He rented the downstairs half of a shabby frame house on one of the streets by Venice Beach. We'd get up every morning, my favorite brother and I and walk down to Ocean Front Walk, past the old Jewish people sitting on the benches, past the palm trees and the young hippies playing drums and guitars, and panhandling. We would walk across the sand to the sparkling water, then along the water's edge. Sometimes, Erica came along. Erica Hill. She lived upstairs, a beautiful woman with thick dark hair that fell nearly to the small of her back. She and I were about the same age, but she seemed ageless, born wise and confident, and I was in awe of her. She wore silver bells and Indian prints and old soft velvets, and to me, she was the quintessential hippie, back when the word meant something new and different and free. The polluted California air had been dense and dreamy sweet in Venice. Erica, James, and I burned patchouli incense, and ate rice and vegetables with delicious sauces our mothers had never heard of. I knew that James loved Erica, in his way, but they were never lovers. Back then, I wondered, Why not? Now, of course, I know. James died of AIDS a few years ago, in L.A. His lover, Hal, nursed him through his last terrible year. It's because of Hal that I moved from New York to Old Dudley. After James's death, Hal left L.A., bought the house in Old Dudley where I live. Hal is dead now, too, and he willed the house to me. Dudley is composed of two towns, Old Dudley and New Dudley. New Dudley is out on the flats and not much different from the way it was thirty years ago, but Old Dudley is like no other place in Cochise County. A tiny, quaint mining town in the mountains, colonized, when the mines closed down, by hippies. They moved here in droves in the late seventies, opened up galleries, crafts stores, the Natural Food Co-op. Sometimes when I walk around the streets here, I am reminded of Venice--the wood houses, the music coming up from the Gulch, the hippies. It fills me with nostalgia for who I once was, back in Venice, back in New York, too, for a while. After a brief marriage, I'd left my husband, moved to the East Village. But hippies didn't survive for long in New York City. I tried odd jobs--waitressing, social work--left the city, went back; then I saw the ad for Friendly Investigations, Friendly being the name of the owner and not the tone of the organization, and applied for a job there. I'd worked for two years as an investigator, mostly a skip tracer; then I'd gotten my license. It had been an accident really, a profession by default for someone who'd majored in literature. It satisfied my morbid curiosity about people's secret lives, just as literature had. Mostly, I worked for professional women who wanted to know about the financial situations of their boyfriends, or their fiancés. A feminist sort of job, I told myself, but after awhile, I felt as though I were working for a bunch of greedy females whose hearts were stamped with dollar signs. But the hippies make me impatient, too--survivors clinging to this last outpost. They don't get involved beyond their own little world, don't do things like take the Victim Witness Program volunteer training. Victim Witness volunteers mostly come from New Dudley, a couple of miles past the old mining pit, where the true locals live, the ones who've lived here all their lives. They own the established businesses and support law enforcement. I didn't usually do the Dudley trainings, but the Dudley trainer got bronchitis and I took over her first class. Just luck--or maybe karma's a better word--that after all those years, the most unlikely person showed up there: Erica Hill. The class was held at night, in a room in the Health Department, maybe fifteen pleasant, unassuming people, more women than men, crammed into uncomfortable metal desks. We'd already finished the first get-acquainted exercise, and I was about to launch into the training, when Erica walked in. I didn't recognize her, barely glanced her way, saw a mass of hair, crinkly rose silk, silver jewelry, glinting under the fluorescent lights. "Hi," I said brightly. "Have a seat. I'm Chloe Newcombe, the trainer for tonight." She didn't move, stood there, her mouth open. "Chloe?" I looked at her then. She smiled. "Chloe, it's Erica. Remember? From Venice. Erica Hill." "Erica." For a second, I was stunned, thrown off balance. "My God, of course. I wasn't expecting . . . But you look just the same." She almost did. Her hair. It had always been beautiful; she'd told me once she conditioned it with olive oil, wrapped . . . In front of me, fifteen people sat with polite smiles on their faces. I had a training to do. Suddenly, everything in the room seemed too bright, exposing me in its glare. "Well!" I said even more brightly. "It's great to see you again. Have a seat. We can talk after class." I spoke to the class about what the training would cover, talked about taking risks and learning to grow. The fluorescent lights shone down, reflecting back off the beige tile floor as I hung up newsprint with masking tape on the walls, my points printed on them. I talked and talked myself hoarse, my voice droning on, drowning out the sound of my thoughts. After that, we broke into little groups and did a few exercises designed to get people to trust one another, to reveal themselves. I was supposed to circulate, offering encouragement, but I stood at the board in front, my back to the class, and carefully erased some notes I'd written there in marker. Thinking of Erica, Venice, James. I no longer thought of James the way I used to; months could go by without my really remembering. But now Erica had brought him back, full-blown and vivid. Distantly, I watched my arm moving up and down as I erased my name, my title. By the end of the class, I'd pulled myself together, Chloe Newcombe, trainer for Victim Witness Program volunteers, and I handed out the Married Woman Exercise. When everyone was done reading it, I made a chart on the board, with all the characters listed and the order of their responsibility for the woman's death from most to least. No one had been asked to list them in order of responsibility, but we cheated and drew the graph that way, so they'd be encouraged to blame everyone. And they did. They gave every person on the list a share of the blame--the husband for being insensitive and leaving her alone, the ferryboat captain for his cold "Rules are rules" policy, the lovers for not helping out. Of course, the highwayman got some of the blame, but most of it centered on the married woman, whose wicked life had led to her death. Then Erica spoke up, her voice impatient. "What's wrong with everyone? Can't you all see that no one's responsible for her death but the highwayman? How can she be responsible when he's the one who killed her?" The class fell silent, looking at Erica. "Everyone in this class is entitled to their opinion," I said, lying. "But I happen to agree with Erica." I paused significantly. "We have to be careful about blaming the victim." Lights went on in the faces of the class, tricked into betraying their own image of themselves as good, thoughtful people. I probably had a smug little smile on my face. I don't remember. Don't remember much about the class except for Erica and what she said. I am still haunted by that. After class, Erica stuck around, being helpful. She dumped the coffeepot and rinsed it out while I rolled up the newsprint. We walked out together to the parking lot, me with the newsprint portfolio and one box, Erica with the coffee makings in the other. Outside, it was balmy, late summer in the desert, and smelled of rain. "How long have you lived here?" Erica asked. "A couple of years or so," I said. "I can't believe it. That we never saw each other till now. Of course, people here--they get in their own little enclaves, don't they?" "Yes." Looking at Erica, I wanted to say, I work; I don't hang out. But it would have sounded so priggish, so right-wing. "I bet we've passed on the street and we ... we weren't looking. I don't think I would have recognized you right away, if you hadn't told me your name." She tilted her head. "You look so . . ." She paused. "Straight," I said. I was wearing a white linen jacket, a short black-and-white-print dress, little heels. She laughed. "How did you end up here anyway?" I shifted the newsprint portfolio to my other arm. "I inherited Hal's house." "Oh, of course," she said. "It makes sense. I heard he'd moved here. I was in Nicaragua that summer." We paused while I locked the outer door. I was tired from the class and wanted to go home. I knew her, and yet I didn't. Years stood between us and the faraway summer when I'd known her. I felt shy and artificial. "And you," I said politely, "what are you doing here? Are you working?" She sighed. "Well, I've been waitressing." Waitressing. She could have been anything, done anything. But none of us was the sum of her job. And she still looked . . . well, magnificent, standing there in her fantasy crinkled rose clothes, silver jewelry, her hair gleaming under the lights of the parking lot. Aging, yes, but becomingly. "Actually, I may be getting a new job. A pretty good one. But jobs . . ." She shrugged. "They don't matter. I've lived here almost twenty years now, and it's been good for me." Her face lit up. "For one thing, I'm a mother." "Oh," I said, "you have children?" "One. He's sixteen now. Troy." It was just a boy's name, but she said it so proudly, as if the name alone had some cosmic meaning. Troy. The famous Troy. Then she added her, eyes shining, "He's such a good boy, funny and loving and creative. He was born on my birthday, so we're both Scorpios. I'm a single mother." She smiled at me as she played with a silver cross hanging around her neck. Cool teenage boys wore crosses dangling from one pierced ear; rock stars wore big heavy crosses on cords. Actual Christians probably wore them, too. "Oh," she added, "and we have a dog, too, Krishna." It figured. I turned the key and tested the door to make sure it was secure. Busying myself with the little details because I didn't know what to say. "Do you ever think about Venice?" she asked as we walked to my car. "Wasn't it heavenly? Sometimes I think I'd like to go back, but by now, they've probably wrecked it. And anyway, it would be myself I'd be looking for, you know?" Her voice was the way I remembered it, animated and compelling. I opened the hatchback of my car and put my box inside. "Yes, I do know." "I have to get home now," she said, handing me the box with the coffee stuff. Her face lit up again. "I promised Troy I'd get right home. He's got some project. . . ." She laughed and shrugged. "Anyway, let's get together sometime and talk. I'd really like to do that." I had a little image then of me, Erica, and James, sitting on Venice Beach. Seagulls plunged, skimming the water; the sun was going down. James was listening intently, smiling as Erica told him a story. I sat to one side, drawing little pictures in the wet sand. "Definitely," I said. "You've got my number, from when I signed in." I could have given her my card, written my home phone number on it, but I didn't. "My car's right here." She began to walk away, toward a pumpkin-colored car of indeterminate make and vintage. Then she hesitated, looking back at me. "James," she said softly. "I miss him even now. I'm so so sorry." I felt as though she'd pierced my heart. "I am, too," I said, more coldly than I intended. I drove home that night, biting my lip to keep from crying, stumbling over Big Foot, my cat, as I walked into my house, Hal's house, in the dark. I switched on lights and went to the filing cabinet in the little room I used as an office, off the living room. I reached way back in the second drawer and pulled out James's letters, tied together with a bit of black yarn. I hadn't looked at them in years. I sat on the floor of the room, reading the letters and crying, long after bedtime. "One of the things I hate most about this premature dying thing," he'd written, "is not knowing what will happen to people. I guess it's just my gossipy old self. Erica Hill, for one. How I regret that I won't be able to know how she turns out. Will she end up enlightened at the feet of some guru, or maybe just be swept away by a rich man to hang out on the beaches at Cannes? Who knows, maybe there's a link between the living and the dead, a wavelength--if you and I ever connect, you'll let me know what happens to Erica, won't you?" And I hadn't even given her my card. Maybe that was why she never called me. I didn't call her. She never came to another class. The trainer told me Erica had left a message that she'd gotten a job and didn't have the time. I promised myself I would call her eventually. But I kept putting it off. One afternoon, two or three weeks later, I saw her as I was sitting in the new juice bar that had just opened up on the second floor above the Natural Foods Co-op. My neighbor Lourdes and I had stopped in to try it out. We were both drinking raspberry smoothies, and I looked out the window, and there was Erica, floating down Main Street in a red-and-black gauze dress, black boots. Beside her, then in front, then behind was a young teenager in black-and-white-striped pants, black T-shirt, big running shoes. It had to be Troy. The famous Troy. He had the only dreadlocks I'd ever seen on a blond and he wandered, rather than walked, down the streets like a young puppy, sniffing at all the shops along the way. When he reached the Co-op, he sniffed there. He never looked up to the second floor, so he didn't see me looking down on him. Black-frame glasses, childish face. With his Raggedy Andy hair, his big feet, he was clownish, charming, and dazzling all at once. I wanted to smile, just looking at him. And Erica looked happy. Once, we'd both been in Venice, California, living with careless faith, the way she seemed to live now still. In her forties, single, a child to support. I imagined she had accumulated nothing in the way of financial security, probably didn't even have health insurance. Thinking that, through an act of sheer will and a mainly vegetable diet, she would never grow old, would live forever. A life of no security at all. I could have run down, stopped her, but I didn't want to abandon Lourdes. I watched Erica in her gauze dress and her elaborate jewelry and sensed a life I could have been leading myself but for various things, accidental possibly, that had happened to me. My job was still part-time, but I had full benefits. One of us had taken the easy way in life, one the hard. You had to think a long time to figure out which was which. Excerpted from High Lonesome Road by Betsy Thorton, Betsy Thornton All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.