As the 1960s draw to a close, the rural northeast Texas community of Center Springs is visited by two nondescript government men in dark suits and shades. They say their assignment is to test weather currents and patterns, but that's a lie. Their delivery of a mysterious microscopic payload called Gold Dust from a hired crop duster coincides with fourteen-year-old Pepper Parker's discovery of an ancient gold coin in her dad's possession. Her adolescent trick played on a greedy adult results in the only gold rush in north Texas history. Add in modern-day cattle-rustlers and murderers, and Center Springs is once again the bull's-eye in a deadly target.
The biological agent deemed benign by the CIA has unexpected repercussions, putting Pepper's near-twin cousin, Top, at death's door. The boy's crisis sends their grandfather, Constable Ned Parker, to Washington D.C. to exact personal justice, joined by a man Ned left behind in Mexico and had presumed dead. The CIA agents who operate on the dark side of the U.S. government find they're no match for men who know they're right and won't stop. Especially two old country boys raised on shotguns.
But there's more. Lots more. Top Parker thought only he had what had become known as a Poisoned Gift, but Ned suffers his own form of a family curse he must deploy. Plus, there are many trails to follow as the lawmen desperately work to put an end to murder and government experimentation that extends from their tiny Texas town to Austin and, ultimately, to Washington, D.C. Traitors, cattle-rustlers, murderers, rural crime families, grave robbers, CIA turncoats, and gold-hungry prospectors pursue agendas that all, in a sense, revolve around the center of this small vortex called Center Springs.
Gold Dust seems to be fiction, but the truth is, it has already happened.
In Wortham's entertaining, well-crafted seventh Red River mystery set in late 1960s Center Springs, Tex. (after 2016's Unravelled), two CIA agents persuade a local crop duster to spray an unknown substance that they call Gold Dust. They claim it's to test weather patterns, but Constable Ned Parker and his old friend Tom Bell, a retired Texas Ranger, believe the spray may be spreading illness. Meanwhile, Sheriff Cody Parker and his deputies investigate a rancher's murder that could be related. And Ned's 14-year-old granddaughter, Pepper Parker, starts a rumor about buried treasure that sparks a gold rush in the area. Ned and Tom pursue the CIA operatives to Washington, D.C., in their quest for justice. Their triumph may be farfetched, but it's a pleasure to watch them deal with orneriness as well as just plain evil. Readers nostalgic for this period songs by the Monkees and Tommy James and the Shondells blast from transistor radios will find plenty to like.