Author: Rusty Barnes
Publisher: 280 Steps
Release Date: May 2016
Investigating a deer-poaching incident, wildlife conservation officer Matt Rider finds himself at loggerheads with members of the renegade Pittman family, and ends up with a broken ankle and multiple bullet wounds for his troubles. When a large sum of money belonging to enigmatic clan leader Soldier Pittman goes missing at the crime scene, he is convinced that Rider stole it, and the threats come thick and fast. The incapacitated Matt taps up his trusted brother Randy for help in unravelling the mystery of the missing money, but the siblings underestimate the violent lengths that Soldier Pittman will go to in order to get his cash back, and the two families are set on a bullet-strewn collision course.
Ridgerunner is a grit-streaked thriller set against the backdrop of northern Pennsylvania. The acute sense of place is married to a bone-weary prose style, and Matt’s unease is palpable as he hobbles through the winter mud in search of his unknown enemy. Prime antagonist Soldier Pittman is a menacing, untouchable bogeyman-type figure, and his elusiveness adds to the murky sense of dread that Barnes teases out of the plot.
To his credit, Barnes tweaks crime conventions by foregrounding Matt’s family, and each one of his increasingly desperate decisions causes serious problems for his wife and teenage daughter. What unfolds is an unflinching examination of the sordid reality of killing, and Matt’s physical and mental disintegration is confidently handled throughout.
If you like your rural thrillers textured and intense you won’t go far wrong with Ridgerunner. Great work.
Reviewed by Tom Leins