In T.R. Pearson’s Blue Ridge, an old man named Lyle calls every night into the Virginia woods for his dog: “Queenie! Come on here, Queenie girl!” When his new neighbor and the book’s protagonist, Deputy Sheriff Ray Tatum, heads over to help, he discovers that the dog has been dead for at least a dozen years.Queenie is not the only mysterious death in the acclaimed author’s latest book. There’s a skeleton just off the Appalachian Trail that Tatum investigates with a beautiful and disgruntled black federal agent named Kit Carson, and then there’s the whole matter of Ray’s cousin Paul, an actuary who gets summoned to New York City to identify his lost son, a child of a ’60s love-union, unknown to him. While Paul gets to speak in first person and his story runs parallel to Ray’s, fighting for air-time as both men get entwined in the dangers of uncovering murders, the Virginia tale grounds the New York one.
Ray meets delightfully idiosyncratic characters like Lyle, Kit and Myra Jean Tuttle, who is “going through the change” and has flown into a plate-and-husband-breaking rage. Paul encounters a well-mannered gangster named Giles, the conniving actress Lizzie and two cops, one a polished ladies’ man, the other grumpy and depressed. The city portraits are well-drawn, but they have an air of romance to them, as if they are seen through a slightly smudged car window, blurred in their passing.
Despite the challenges of shuttling between two such different landscapes, Pearson’s book is great fun to read. Wry-witted and original, he lingers on unusual but telling details: Myra Jean’s husband, upon being heaved out of his trailer by his irate wife, stands up and adjusts “with meticulous sartorial care his bright brass coverall zipper tab.” Moments like this gleam in a novel of human unkindness and neglect. While not the place to look for happy endings or the sweeping grandeur of destiny, there many small, worthwhile fates to follow in Blue Ridge, and you will finish it with the understanding that it is never too late to look for a lost dog.