Triviana

A gem of a novel
that's just
'Plains Crazy'

''Plains Crazy''
By J.M. Hayes
(Poisoned Pen Press, 242 pp., $24.95)
Buy at Amazon

Reviewed by John Orr
October 2004

Family is a big issue in ''Plains Crazy,'' a new Mad Dog and Englishman mystery from J.M. Hayes, one of my favorite writers working today.

It starts when a 16-year-old American Indian is shot in the back with an arrow while he's making love with a beautiful co-star of a ''reality'' TV show. The chief suspect is none other than Harvey Edward ''Mad Dog'' Maddox, brother of ''Englishman'' English, sheriff of Benteen County, Kansas.

But while Englishman quickly establishes that Mad Dog isn't guilty, he has bigger problems: His wife, Judy, wants to go to Paris. That afternoon.

As the day goes on, Englishman's life gets way more complicated: The unknown archer shoots Mad Dog's wolf and almost hits Mad Dog, bombs start exploding around town with notes left behind containing acronyms that spell out JIHAD, and Judy lets him know she is going to Paris with him or without him.

And her coming back isn't guaranteed.

Meanwhile, the love of Mad Dog's life has suddenly reappeared, and his life is getting pretty complicated, too. Trouble is, she seems to have some part in all the killing and bombing.

It's really an impressive bit of work, the way Hayes crams so much into one day in a sparsely populated (fictional) corner of Kansas where usually nothing more exciting happens than rain drops keeping the dust down.

And it is a very good look at what we decide is important in our lives. Mad Dog and Englishman are both devoted to their work -- Mad Dog is a Cheyenne shaman -- but both of them have to make big decisions about whether their work means as much as the women they love.

Chances are very good that you have not read any of Hayes' books -- small publisher, little publicity. But do yourself a favor and go find any of the books in this series. You'll enjoy them.