Book Review: Dead Or Alive

Tom Gibbons
3 min read
Dead or Alive by Michael McGarrity
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Michael McGarrity has been busy. His first novel, 1996’s Tularosa, introduced readers to retired Santa Fe Police Chief Kevin Kerney. Eleven titles have followed, including Serpent Gate, Everyone Dies and his new release, Dead or Alive . In this 12 th Kevin Kerney novel, McGarrity’s longtime protagonist collaborates with his half-Apache son, Lieutenant Clayton Istee, to stop fugitive murderer Craig Larson.

A former Santa Fe County deputy sheriff, New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy instructor and police psychotherapist, McGarrity sets the New Mexico stage of
Dead or Alive with startling accuracy. Whether describing the streets and highways of Albuquerque and Santa Fe at just the right time of day (or wrong time of night) or the conversations of law enforcement officials over the dispatch, McGarrity’s life’s work is his research.

The cat-and-mouse game between this father-and-son team and desperate killer spans multiple locales and cultures in New Mexico. The scion of a ranching family in the Tularosa Basin, Kevin Kerney moves from the state’s major cities to the tribal communities and reservations to the wilderness, as the manhunt proves to be far more complex than his associates anticipate.

If Kerney comes across as an elder statesman of law enforcement—a wise, grandfatherly figure able to negotiate the diversity and strangeness of New Mexico—his quarry is a child of chaos with nothing to lose. Once Larson gets a taste for murder, his descent into evil is made fully believable by McGarrity’s familiarity with the criminal mind. Larson cloaks himself in the scenery of New Mexico, the vast nothingness of its deserts working to his benefit before turning against him as his pursuers close in.

Though McGarrity has been compared to giants like the late Tony Hillerman,
Dead or Alive does not come across as an imitation of Hillerman’s style. The plot of No Country for Old Men is a better comparison—the violence in Dead or Alive is horrifyingly frank at times, whether it be the state of a body left alone for coyotes or the force-feeding of prescription pills. McGarrity’s conveyance is strong and assured, and the reader is never caught off guard by entirely outlandish or gratuitous acts.

Readers looking for a prose style resembling that of Tony Hillerman or Cormac McCarthy will be disappointed—the natural storytelling prowess of these towering writers is rare indeed. Though his writing and characters are authentic to the last detail, not all readers will be enthralled. That being said, for fans of the genre, this is a crime novel in top form.
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