Jim Sanderson, Lamar University’s resident mystery writer and professor and chair of English and modern languages, as well as past guest speaker at TCU, provides murder and suspense in his eighth novel, Gambled Dreams.
Gambled Dreams begins at the height of the 1981 oil boom in Odessa, Texas. Protagonist Colton Parker lost his first shot at success when he wrecked his knees playing college football. Now he makes ends meet as a bouncer and strong-arm collection man for Snake Popp, a slick Porter Wagoner lookalike, club owner, and underworld string-puller. Trouble is, Colton’s going nowhere, and his family life is as shaky as his injured knees. Colton has mixed feelings when a second shot at some real money presents itself.
Everyone in town knew Danny Fowler was gay. His cruising the bars of Odessa and attempts to lure oilfield roughnecks into bed sometimes resulted in an ass-whuppin’ — Danny’s. When Danny is found severely battered and dead in a ditch, his wealthy mother Mina Fowler uses her influence to halt the murder investigation. She wants to know who killed her son, and she wants justice but only on her terms. Mina goes to Snake Popp offering good money for an under-the-radar inquiry into Danny’s death. Everyone may have known her son was queer, but an influential family like the Fowlers will not abide the newspapers reporting it.
Danny’s best friend in the world was Bullet Price, a madam providing whores to the hard-working men lured to Odessa by the oil boom. Bullet was once a high-priced hooker herself before a Mexican cartel member carved her face and a cancer surgeon carved her breast. Bullet’s hungry for revenge and just as hungry for Mina’s money. Bullet plans to be the brains of the investigation and have Colton provide the muscle.
Too late, Colton learns the destination of this sort of journey is uncertain at best. Murder investigations and privately funded justice are fraught with dark and unexpected turns. Bad news is Colton has to abandon his family. Good news (if you can call it that) is a wealthy power-broker in Fort Worth needs a “fixer” with Colton’s skills, so his family gets the money they need, even if Colton no longer gets to be part of the family.
Sanderson’s narrative is full of insight into the desperation of souls forced to live in a world over which they have little or no control. Like Cormac McCarthy’s, Sanderson’s work provides a literary take on the darker pursuits of humanity — what some have called “grit lit.” The reader feels the anxiety of hopeless Colton Parker as he navigates the maze of 1980s Odessa in search of stability, respect, and a better life for his wife, Elena, and his two sons, Arnie and Mando. Every day offers him only choices between bad and worse.
Readers who enjoyed Sanderson’s Nothing to Lose will want to give Gambled Dreams a look.
By Jim Sanderson
Moonshine Cove Publishing