Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When a main character is unlikable it makes it difficult to sympathize, but Henderson does a relatively good job of making Pete Snow a sympathetic, if not likeable, lead. His family life is a mess, from his drug-addict brother (now on the run from his parole officer) to his domineering father to his runaway daughter - nothing is going right for him. And then there's his job, covering a relatively large territory in Montana for the Department of Child Services. It's understandable that he has a small drinking problem.
The thing is, he truly does care about the kids and wants them to lead good lives. It's just that he isn't able to really do anything, especially if the kids and their parents, don't also help themselves. And that's what leads him into trouble when he meets with Benjamin Pearl, son of Jeremiah, an End Timeser who lives (illegally) off the land in the wilds near Tenmile. Pete's judgement, never great, gets worse...
What kept this from being a five star was the occasional over-the-top event, and a cast of too many characters. It was also implausible that no one noticed Pete's going off the rails - something the author, via Pete's inner monologue, mentions. The Pete/Benjamin/Jeremiah story would have been enough for one book, and perhaps one or two side stories. But for there to be as many as there were drew focus from the important stuff.
ARC provided by publisher.