At a mere 158 pages, THE LONG NIGHT OF WINCHELL DEAR calls to mind that kvetch of the hoary Catskills resort patron: “The food is terrible—and such small portions!” To be fair, the latest from brand-name Hill Country novelist ROBERT JAMES WALLER is not terrible, but it is disappointing—slapdash and mediocre. The premise, if not original, is interesting: Winchell Dear is a world-weary gambler whose ranch outside El Paso will become ground zero when a combustible cast of characters—smugglers, hit men, rattlesnakes, Indians—converges and reaches critical mass. But Waller expends too much energy on Dear’s background and not enough developing the story at hand. His likable prose and folksy approach are outweighed by his stilted dialogue and inexplicable tendency to repeat tedious details (the hit man’s shirt cost $80; Dear’s housekeeper is saving money for a better life). Long night? Indeed.
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