Atlanta author Steven Cooper kicks off series with 'Desert Remains'
A toasty murder mystery emerges from the creative hub of Atlanta
Atlanta author Steven Cooper’s novel Desert Remains is a fast-paced, bloody mystery set in the desert of Phoenix, Arizona. Cooper, who used to call the region home, says the blistering landscape inscribed with ancient petroglyphs never quite left him.
The murders in the novel are brutal, yet vaguely ritualistic. Each body is accompanied by a crude illustration, a vandal’s perversion of a petroglyph.
Desert Remains opens a series about an unlikely crime-solving duo. Alex Mills, a police detective under pressure from all sides, and Gus Parker, a lonely, unassuming psychic, scramble to catch a maddeningly untraceable killer who has Phoenix’s body count rising faster than the temperature.
The two men complete one another, the psychic’s paranormal abilities picking up where the razor-sharp intuition of the detective leaves off. Mills tracks the killer with his years of crime-fighting experience, and Parker follows the dark vibes of residual evil radiating from the victims.
Cooper describes the horrific murder scenes with crisp detail and wordplay. He writes with the graphic yet nonchalant tone of someone who has seen it all. Indeed, the murders in the book are informed by Cooper’s own experience as a journalist covering crimes. The text is littered with sophisticated literary devices. Puns and references to classic literature are embedded in the imagery and dialogue like miniature inside jokes. The victims are beautiful women, jarringly reduced to their parts. Even some of the living women are framed as prey in more subtle, unsettling ways.
Desert Remains never shies away from sex or gore. The book details everything from decomposing corpses to the crazy, hyper-sexual antics and breast implants of a lascivious public relations official. Of course, there is more to the story than shock value. The key players in this novel have layers, just like the mystery they are rushing to unravel.
Cooper emphasized the importance of the Atlanta Writer’s Club in his own development. It is where he met his current agent. Cooper also acknowledges the broad selection of options for art, theater, and literature in Atlanta, including the Marcus Jewish Community Center Book Festival and the Decatur Book Festival.
“I think that Atlanta reinforces, I guess, a creative vibe,” said Cooper, “some cities just don’t have it, you know?”
While the novel centers a classic “buddy cop” narrative, the usual clichés of the archetype are carefully avoided, as are those of the stereotypical, day-time television psychic. Alex Mills is a gritty Sherlock Holmes with a clairvoyant Watson. Publisher’s Weekly calls the conclusion “electrifying.”
Remains are a constant, whether they be gruesome human remains or reverberations of violence in the lives of the characters. Although one protagonist profiles criminals and the other sees the future, Desert Remains is anything but predictable.