Lonesome Animals

Seattle Times list of “Best Mysteries 2012”

In Lonesome Animals, Russell Strawl, a tormented former lawman, is called out of retirement to hunt a serial killer with a sense of the macabre, who has been leaving elaborately carved bodies of Native Americans across three counties. As the pursuit ensues, Strawl’s own dark and violent history weaves itself into the hunt, shedding light on the remains of his broken family: one wife taken by the river, one by his own hand; an adopted Native American son who fancies himself a Catholic prophet; and a daughter, whose temerity and stoicism contrast against the romantic notions of how the West was won. In the vein of True Grit and Blood Meridian, Lonesome Animals is a western novel reinvented, and a detective story catered to the West. It contemplates the nature of story and heroism in the face of a collapsing ethos‚ not only of Native American culture, but also of the first wave of white men who, through the battle against the geography and its indigenous people, guaranteed their own destruction. But it is also about one man’s urgent, elegiac search for justice amidst the craven acts committed on the edges of civilization.


He devoured his Bible, like a fly does his meal, consuming a passage, then vomiting its ideas, then feasting upon his own regurgitation.  He stole a Catholic Apocrypha and a copy of the Gnostic Thomas from the priest’s library, and gorging on them likewise.  For five months, he studied and when he rose from the books like Rip Van Winkle from twenty years of sleep, the things around him were no longer what they were and he insisted upon a new name to fit such a passage, and from that moment on, he answered only to Elijah.

Listen to the Prologue: 

Listen to Chapter 1:



Publishers Weekly

From the opening sentence of Holbert’s remarkable debut, it is obvious that we are in the hands of a master storyteller. The time is Depression-era Washington State, the end of the frontier west still a living memory, and violence a frequent resolution to conflict. Former lawman Russell Strawl, himself no stranger to bloodshed, has been brought out of retirement to track a serial killer who has left a gruesome trail of murdered Indians, each ritualistically carved up. Strawl’s investigative methods are often startling and brutal, yet effective, which have earned him respect and fear. Accompanied by his stepson, Elijah, a Salish Indian savant who quotes scripture constantly and fancies himself a prophet, Strawl relentlessly pursues his quarry. As the narrative proceeds, and the body count rises, more and more is revealed about Strawl’s own turbulent past, which includes a fractured family and no shortage of madness and violence. Holbert’s prose is simultaneously roughly hewn and elegant, and recalls Cormac McCarthy at his best, as do his insights into the relationship between predator and prey. Call it literary fiction, classic western realism, or historical noir, Holbert is a writer of formidable skill.


The land is rendered in loving, even exquisite detail, so too the crimes. The characters’ minds are infernal, and at its best the prose makes the darkness visible … Holbert has gone all-in: This book is audacious. It reaches the heights and then keeps rising so far over the top one doesn’t know how to take it.

Book Catapult (Notable Novels 2012)

Holbert uses some sparse, easy-flowing prose to get this story out and despite the fairly awful nature of it all, it bursts to life on the page. The dusty landscape of this still-far western frontier is vivid. The London Times Literary Supplement “Holbert aims to do for language what his in-house monster is doing to his victims; to make the quotidian extraordinary.”

Dan Kois Slate Magazine Best Books 2012

Lonesome Animals by Bruce Holbert. “In the Okanogan Montains along the Canada-Washington border, a dangerous lawman hunts a more dangerous serial killer. This debut novel calls to mind early Cormac McCarthy in its relentless violence and frontier philosophy.”