by Clinton McKinzie

Over the past several years Clinton McKinzie has been busily
establishing a mythos surrounding his creation, Wyoming State
Police Special Agent Antonio Burns. Burns has been portrayed as an
over-the-top cop who is barely able to keep in check the demons
that run rampant over his older brother, Roberto. The most recent
novel in the series, the appropriately named CROSSING THE LINE,
concluded with Roberto being maimed for life by a dangerous drug
lord and with Antonio excising a brutal but appropriate revenge.
While the series always has been strong, it is BADWATER ---
McKinzie's latest novel --- that fulfills the promise of his
previous efforts and that propels him, and Antonio Burns, to
must-read status.

BADWATER finds Antonio Burns sidelined to hunting methamphetamine
labs and reporting their presence to his state headquarters, where
his reports will be acted upon or, more often than not, consigned
to waste in a backwash of budget cuts and mismatched priorities. It
is while hunting one of these labs that Burns stumbles upon the
aftermath of a scene that will ultimately bring the repercussions
for his past actions to a head and that will directly and
indirectly affect the direction of his life.

The scene involves the drowning of a ten-year-old Badwater, Wyoming
boy who dies in spite of Burns's best and most valiant efforts. The
townspeople want Jonah Strasburg, the tourist who precipitated the
drowning, charged with murder, even though there are serious
questions as to whether or not the man was defending himself
against an attack from the dead boy and his cousins. Burns,
unwillingly involved as part of the prosecution's team, finds that
the proceedings have little to do with justice. Luke Endow, the
prosecutor, is a former special agent and is Burns's former
partner. Up for re-election in a hotly contested race, Endow plans
on bringing the force of his office to bear against Strasburg, who
is primarily guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong

Matters are further complicated when William J. Bogey becomes
involved in Strasburg's defense. Bogey, a celebrity lawyer whose
star has begun to fade, sees his defense of Strasburg as just the
ticket to resuscitate his fading career. Endow and Bogey, as it
turns out, have an embittered history and neither is willing to
give an inch. Burns is determined to see that Strasburg receives a
fair trial and that he lives long enough to receive it. Burns finds
that he must enlist the aid not only of his brother Roberto but
also an unlikely ally on the defense team. When Burns is the
subject of an apparently heartless betrayal, he finds that he
ultimately must rely only upon himself to see that mercy, and
justice, are applied in equal and appropriate measure --- even if
it means that he must function outside of the law he has sworn to

McKinzie's narrative thread is straightforward and uncluttered by
complexity, while maintaining an unpredictable storyline during
which literally anything can happen, and usually does. Burns's life
takes another twist or two here, leaving one to wonder whether the
conclusion of BADWATER is an end, a new beginning, or a little of
both. What is really important here, however, is McKinzie's
first-rate storytelling, which enables even readers encountering
Burns for the first time to feel familiar and comfortable with a
storyline that gradually has been unfolding over the course of
several novels. And while Burns's --- and McKenzie's ---
predilection with rock climbing might be off-putting to those not
similarly addicted, in this novel it serves as more of an allegory
than as a backdrop to the main story.

You'll want to put BADWATER at the top of your summer reading


Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 22, 2010

by Clinton McKinzie

  • Publication Date: April 26, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press
  • ISBN-10: 0385338473
  • ISBN-13: 9780385338479