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Rhino Ranch: A Novel

Rhino Ranch: A Novel

Автор Larry McMurtry

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Rhino Ranch: A Novel

Автор Larry McMurtry

4/5 (15 оценки)
332 страницы
5 часов
Jun 1, 2010


​In his signature his elegiac prose​, Rhino Ranch finds Larry McMurtry bidding a final farewell to his multi-book hero, Duane Moore, and the rapidly changing town of Thalia, Texas.

The town of Thalia, Texas has changed forever. By the end of When the Light Goes, Duane was already realizing how different his dusty old oil patch was becoming. Now, coming back from a near-fatal heart attack, it is nearly unrecognizable to him. Returning home to recover, Duane finds a new neighbor, K.K. Slater, a stubborn, tough, quirky billionairess, who also happens to have opened the Rhino Ranch—a preserve to save the black Rhino—on her property.

In the midst of a world to which he no longer belongs, in a town in which the land that used to reap oil now serves as a nature preserve, he watches the world change around him and begins to reflect on love affairs past and the missed opportunities he now regrets. Rhino Ranch is a bittersweet and fitting end to this iconic series, a tribute to all of the emotion, hilarity, whimsy, and poignancy that readers have followed across decades.
Jun 1, 2010

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Larry McMurtry is the author of more than thirty novels, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lonesome Dove. He has also written memoirs and essays, and received an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for his work on Brokeback Mountain.

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Rhino Ranch - Larry McMurtry


BOYD COTTON AND Bobby Lee Baxter—friendly but not yet quite friends—surveyed the faint south plains dawn from their comfortable cots atop Observation Post Number One—in effect the north gate to what, it was hoped, would someday be the world-famous Rhino Ranch.

A species near extinction, the African black rhinoceros, was being transferred in toto to West Texas, where, with luck and skill and lots of money, the species had a chance of being saved.

Boyd Cotton and Bobby Lee Baxter had long known one another well enough to wave, if they happened to meet on the road, but now this noble project—saving the black rhino—had thrown them together professionally. After most of a lifetime as mere nodding acquaintances they were the first two local employees of Rhino Enterprises, and were being paid top hand wages to manage the North Texas end of a very ambitious operation; though, of the two, only Boyd Cotton was a genuine top hand, in cowboying terms. Having spent his life as a much sought-after working cowboy, he had certainly never expected to end up saving rhinos.

But in fact most of the local ranches on which Boyd had often been employed had been chopped up into hunting leases, which meant fewer and fewer jobs for the handful of skilled cowboys that remained. And, though his abilities had not diminished, Boyd was seventy-eight; for him and those few like him, the end of cowboying was not far.

Bobby Lee Baxter—except on divorce papers his last name was seldom used—had scratched out a living in the oil patch, working mostly for his friend Duane Moore, the most prosperous small producer in the area.

The term top hand, seldom employed at all, was never employed in the oil patch. Top hands—there had never been many—were always cowboys, on the south plains of Texas.

Despite the hour and the nobility of their great project, Bobby Lee’s thoughts drifted off toward what had been a longtime preoccupation: sex.

Would you believe I’ve been married twice in the last five years, and that’s just in eastern Colorado, he said. Those are the actions of a dick-driven man. There’s days when pussy’s pretty much all I can manage to think about. How about you, Boyd?

I give more thought to horses—always have, Boyd said. What I’ve been applying most of my thought to lately is whether a good well-winded Texas quarter horse could outrun a black rhino, and for how long.

The Rhino Ranch consisted of one hundred and twenty thousand acres of short grass prairie, with a scattering of mesquite thickets and chaparral patches for the rhinos to plod through.

At the moment the only rhino in sight was an old bull named Double Aught, who, as dawn broke, was eating hay out of a hay rack about one hundred yards away. Fourteen more rhinos were off keeping to themselves in various parts of the big pasture. In time, it was hoped, many more would join them.

To the north a soft pink dawn was spreading color along the horizon. The lights of nearby Wichita Falls were just beginning to blink off.

Closer in, not much more than a mile away, Bobby Lee spotted two small fires, deep in the brush land.

Meth’s being cooked, he said, pointing toward the fires.

That’s true, but it ain’t being cooked on the Rhino Ranch, Boyd pointed out. Even a stupid meth head has better sense than to cook their shit where a four-thousand-pound animal could ram a horn as big as a fence post through the cook.

He switched on a cell phone and called the sheriff’s office in Thalia, a hamlet four miles away. Soon lights from two police cars were flashing on the road toward the fires.

I wonder if the meth cookers have figured out that we’re the snitches? Bobby Lee said.

Boyd shrugged. They had both been equipped with powerful rifles, a bullet from which would reduce a meth dealer to a very small smudge.

You’re not much for talking pussy, I guess, Bobby Lee said, as they prepared to climb down from their observation post to go in search of breakfast.

I like to think I’m still a cowboy, Boyd told him. Cowboys don’t talk about it much. You can’t be worrying about your dick if you’re working cattle and trying to work them right.

Bobby Lee was undiscouraged.

I guess you heard I went so far as to have a penile implant, Bobby volunteered. It was a subject he found himself unable to quit talking about, even when his listeners would rather not hear any more about the matter.

Of course Boyd did know about Bobby’s implant, but he didn’t want to enter into conversation about it. He also knew that Bobby had only one testicle, having lost the other to cancer some years ago. He climbed down from the platform and walked over to his pickup, which was not new.

Bobby Lee, however, proved hard to shake.

People like me—sex addicts I guess you’d say—need support groups, he said. I doubt I can scrape up much of one in this miserable place, though.

Boyd Cotton’s only response was to lean against his pickup and have a smoke.


THE RHINO RANGERS, as Boyd and Bobby were encouraged to call themselves, were not supposed to leave their observation site until the next shift of Rhino Rangers were in place. The next shift, in this case, consisted of the Hartman twins, Bub and Dub, late-nighters who were prone to oversleeping.

Bub and Dub were called the Hartman twins because they had been delivered by their mother and one of her boyfriends during a particularly popular episode of the almost forgotten sitcom Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Since their unorthodox birth, Bub and Dub had distinguished themselves mainly by growing, tipping the scale at a robust two hundred and sixty pounds apiece.

Very little of that’s brain matter, Bobby Lee had been heard to say, in a caustic tone.

Sure enough when Boyd Cotton called the twins they were sound asleep, but Boyd Cotton’s voice had a way of bringing the most comatose sleeper awake—not more than six or seven minutes later the twins came bouncing over the big cattle guard. Their Rhino Ranger T-shirts were not tucked in, but they scurried up the ladder to the observation post with surprising quickness, given their weight.

I’m told rhinos can move fast too, when they want to, Bobby Lee said. He was tired of trying to make conversation with the mostly unsociable Boyd Cotton, but, unless he wanted to stand around being silent, he had little choice but to try.

When do you reckon we’ll get to meet the boss lady? he asked, as the two of them got into the heavily reinforced Range Rover they had been assigned and headed north for breakfast, their destination being a nearby crossroads deli run by Mike and Tommy, two hardworking Sri Lankans who had made a go of their unpromising enterprise, the Asia Wonder Deli, where they served tasty fresh spring rolls, crab and barbecued pork to grateful oilfield hands who had previously had to make do with microwaved burritos.

Our boss lady’s supposed to be a billionairess, Boyd reminded him. "People with that much money are hard to predict. Hell, I’d be hard to predict if I had that much money."

You’re hard to predict anyway, Boyd, and your damn pickup’s ten years old, Bobby Lee mentioned.

Since their shift was over, Boyd felt no obligation to make conversation with Bobby Lee—especially not before breakfast, which he always looked forward to.

The boss lady Bobby Lee had referred to was a South Texas heiress named K. K. Slater; she was six two, fifty-two years old, preferred to dress as a cowboy and flew her own planes, which included a Cessna and three helicopters. It was said that she brooked no opposition, and suffered fools not at all. She had been brought up in the feudal manner on a very large ranch and was thought to have the habit of command.

So far her only visit to the range she hoped to fill with black rhinos was a quick flyover in her Cessna, on which occasion she came solo.

As they approached the Asia Wonder Deli, Boyd Cotton’s mood improved. Bobby Lee often exasperated him, but then most people exasperated him—the likely effect of too many years batching, he supposed.

As usual the Asia Wonder Deli was practically surrounded by muddy pickups, most of them the property of the Moore Drilling Company. The pickups were parked willy-nilly, wherever their drivers could find a spot. Bobby Lee, master of a splendid Range Rover, built to withstand rhino attacks, drove across a small creek and parked on its bank.

It’s about this time of day that I miss old Duane, Bobby Lee said, as the sun rose over the mesquite. Me and him have probably seen as many sunrises together as any people on the planet.

Boyd didn’t really know Duane Moore, though of course, through the years, he had often seen him around. He let Bobby Lee’s comment drift away.

His boy, Dickie, mostly runs the company now, Bobby Lee went on.

From what I can see here they’ve got no shortage of pickups, Boyd said.

Duane’s a kind of top hand, like you—only in the oil business, Bobby went on. You know, the go-to guy.

Being the go-to guy can get irksome, Boyd said. You might not always be in the mood to be gone to. Probably why Duane left town.

Oh no, Bobby Lee said. He left because that long-legged wife of his didn’t want to live here—which is reasonable enough, once you think about it.

Soon they were enjoying an excellent Asian breakfast, after which Bobby Lee dropped Boyd off at his pickup, back at the North Gate. Since the Range Rover was supposed to be for company business only, Boyd gave Bobby Lee a lift into Thalia, where the one stoplight continued to blink and blink.


IF YOU ATTEMPT to force me to eat egg whites I may jump up and rebel," Duane said, good-naturedly. In fact he hated egg whites—in his youth there had even been the belief that the two things that caused blindness were egg whites and masturbation.

Annie, his wife of almost five years, came to the table in a caftan that covered her completely, from neck to ankles. She gave no response to his joking complaint.

They were breakfasting on the deck of their adobe home hear Patagonia, Arizona. Doves were cooing, the sunlight was strong and a small covey of Gambel’s quail skittered across the deck. Two young coyotes loped along a gulch below the house.

You won’t rebel, Annie said firmly, putting a rosy Texas grapefruit before him. Though nearing thirty, Annie looked about sixteen. Duane was charmed by her, as he had been more or less since the moment they met.

You can always have all the fruit you want, she reminded him. Your problems lie in the nonfruit areas.

In their years together Annie and Duane had developed a few codes, which, if followed, kept their marriage fairly harmonious. The all-enveloping caftan indicated that Annie had a lover, which meant a period of chastity for Duane. The fact that they had separate bedrooms made this chaste state easier to tolerate. Duane didn’t challenge the arrangement, in part because he knew that Annie was inconsistent and would show up in his bed every few nights anyway, out of a need to be held.

Just before his heart surgery. Duane had nearly died while making love to Annie, an experience that left its mark on both of them. A few years after the operation his potency had returned almost to normal, but the death-fuck, as Annie still referred to it, caused both of them to wonder if he would survive all-out lovemaking. As a result they settled for a kind of stutter-step sex, their fears causing them to miss pleasures they might well have enjoyed.

Annie’s present lover, Duane suspected, was a young carpenter they hired to do some repairs around the house. Like most local carpenters he worked shirtless and was nicely bronzed by the Arizona sun. Duane had to reconcile himself to the fact that he himself was only going to get older and less vigorous, whereas golden young carpenters would never be in short supply.

Annie was a topflight geological analyst, who worked, technically, for Duane’s son, Dickie. As part of her duties, she went to high-level petroleum conferences all over the world; the conferences provided the opportunity for many brief romances, though Duane didn’t think Annie had many brief romances—mainly, he thought, she did her work and came home.

While he was eating his grapefruit one of the Gambel’s quail jumped up on the table and made off with a blueberry. Duane liked birds and usually had half a dozen or so milling around his feet when he breakfasted outside. Indeed, the little birds provided a bit of company when Annie was gone. There were times, as he aged, when he felt marginal—the presence of the quail and dove seemed to help a little.


ONE DAY, WITH Annie in Vancouver, Duane had a deeper than usual depression—deep enough that he broke his own rules and called Honor Carmichael, his first psychiatrist, who was retired and was living on Long Island with her slightly crippled girlfriend, a famous American painter.

That’s not a happy voice, Honor said, the moment Duane said her name.

Are you busy? he asked, nervously.

Honor laughed. "I’m a kept woman, Duane—and handsomely kept, at that. I’m never again likely to be ‘busy,’ not in the real sense anyway.

So why’d you call? she asked.

I’m more depressed than I have any reason to be, he admitted.

And Annie’s where?



I think she might have something going with a carpenter we hired, he said.

A common choice, Honor said. Carpenters are usually good with their hands.

I don’t know whether I should bring it up with her or not, he added.

Don’t you utter a word, Honor said. She didn’t marry you for your tolerance.

I don’t feel that tolerant, he said.

No, but your love is her safety, Honor said. It may not always be comfortable for you, but it’s important.

I don’t make a good retiree, he said. I’m not used to sitting on the deck with absolutely nothing to do.

Then go home for a while, she suggested. Go back to Thalia and see how you feel.

What? Duane said, wondering if he had misheard. Honor had been to Thalia. She knew what was there, and, even more importantly, she knew what wasn’t there.

Last time I left home I had the feeling I was leaving for good, he said. I’ve had to go back a couple of times because of the oil business and I feel about as marginal there as I feel here. Except for one thing.

Willy? Honor guessed.

That’s right, Willy, my favorite grandson.

There was a silence.

Helping Willy’s a good enough reason to go home, Honor said. Didn’t you buy your big house back?

I did, it was Dickie’s idea, Duane said. We did it mainly to protect the property from a drug dealer that wanted to use it as his warehouse.

I only met Willy once, but he seemed like a great kid, Honor said. Go home and be there in case he needs you.

Duane thought for a minute—the conversation had taken a surprising tack. Willy was growing up fast, and it would be fun to spend more time with him.

You’re never really through with your home, Duane, Honor said. You sort of can’t be.

I wonder if Annie knows that, he said.

"I don’t know anything about her upbringing but the tendency of the rich is to keep on the move. It unsettles their kids, who often grow up feeling they had no real home.

If I were still a shrink I’d advise that you and I have a few sessions together. I want to hear more about why you feel marginal, Honor said.

It’s the best word I can think of.

Here’s another word you might consider: old, she said. Many aging people feel marginal, to some degree. For decades they’re at the center of things, and then one day they’re not. They slip over to the sidelines. They become marginal, and next thing you know they’re old.

They didn’t talk much longer. As usual, though, Honor Carmichael had told him something that felt true.


BOYD COTTON WAS generally held to be the best all-round cowboy in the Thalia region, a distinction he had held for almost sixty years. He had one or two peers among local cowboys, but no superiors.

In any local roundup, if he was available, he did the roping—the premier job. He had always been willing to head into the thorniest thicket, to bring out the wildest and wooliest cattle.

Boyd lived alone in a small, seldom painted frame house that stood on what had been his grandparents’ homestead. A time or two he had attempted to lease a hundred acres or so and run a few steers of his own, but mainly, all his life, he had lived on freelance cowboying, a day here, two days there.

But, as ranching slowly died, Boyd found it harder and harder to get work. Often he hauled his quarter horse a hundred miles each way, in order to get a day’s cowboying.

Much as he loved cowboying, Boyd Cotton did not delude himself about its future—or lack of it. When Rhino Enterprises showed up and offered him a job, he took it at once, and became, for the first time in his life, a salaried man.

Bobby Lee Baxter, who had always been a salaried man—mostly for Moore Drilling—signed up with Rhino Enterprises the same day as Boyd.

In that part of Texas cowboys and oil people had never mixed particularly well. The cowboys were mounted men when possible, and considered themselves lords of the earth, whereas working on a drilling platform soon drove any innate haughtiness out of a man. Oil workers ended their days covered in oil and mud; many of them were never entirely clean.

Still, since they were—before the twins arrived—the only local employees of Rhino Enterprises, Bobby Lee and Boyd edged into friendship. One day they were high on their platform, contemplating lunch, when a line of trucks loaded with white pipe began to bump through the cattle guard. The truck drivers waved at Boyd and Bobby, and continued on west with their loads.

Thirty-eight miles of rhino-proof fence she’s planning to build, Bobby Lee said. How many of them big mean rhinos will fit inside thirty-eight miles of fence?

When the XIT Ranch existed it had six thousand miles of fence, Boyd reminded him. He enjoyed surprising Bobby Lee with a statistic now and

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  • (3/5)
    Might this be McMurtry's last novel, as he hints in his memoir, "Literary Life"? I would be sad if it was, but every author reaches an end and this one isn't a bad one. I admit to being a sucker for his fiction. It's not always great, but I always find it enjoyable. This is the capstone to the Duane story that began in "The Last Picture Show." I thought the rhino piece was a little contrived at first, but I admit that they have continued to roam in my mind long after finishing the book, conjuring images of home and displacement and dignity and humor and...well done, Larry.
  • (3/5)
    This is the first McMurty book I've read. It is: easy to read, has lots and lots of short chapters, has decent character development, and kind of a sad story.

    One comment, McMurty uses an odd method of writing dialog that I found disconcerting; he would right a line of dialog for a character and then continue with the character talking in the next sentence. It was jarring enough that I had to re-read several times as I kept losing the thread of who was speaking.
  • (5/5)
    Rhino Park (2009) marks the end of Duane Moore’s story, a story that Larry McMurtry began all the way back in 1966 with The Last Picture Show. This five-book series also includes Texasville (1989), Duane’s Depressed (1999), and When the Light Goes (2007). Along the way, Duane and his Thalia cohorts age pretty much in real time. Duane was a high school football star in The Last Picture Show, an aging man who feels bad that he has outlived most of his old friends by the time we get to Rhino Park.Duane and his young wife, Annie, call Patagonia, Arizona, home. Theirs has been a rather chaste relationship since Duane suffered a heart attack that almost killed him while he and Annie were making love. Duane knows that Annie has taken on lovers since the incident, but he has learned to live with the situation. But, after Annie decides that even that arrangement is not good enough, Duane heads back to Thalia where he still keeps a house and his beloved cabin.Duane might be slowing down, but Thalia is not. K.K. Slater, said to be a billionaire, has decided that Thalia is the perfect place for her to open the Rhino Ranch, a preservation facility to ensure the survival of the endangered black rhinoceros. Along with the ranch, comes a few new jobs, and a couple of Duane’s oldest friends suddenly become rhino wranglers. Despite not really wanting to have anything to do with the rhino ranch, Duane is slowly sucked into its day-to-day activity. First, he mysteriously bonds with the biggest rhino on the ranch when it insists on walking the fence line, side-by-side with Duane, that separates the ranch from the property on which Duane’s cabin sits. Then, he finds that K.K. Slater has a way of keeping life in Thalia interesting and starts keeping company with her and her big city friends.Rhino Ranch is all about one man’s reflections on a life well lived. Duane senses that his time is largely past and he is struggling to find a sense of purpose. His friends are dead or dying (that kind of bad news just keeps pounding on him), and he is starting to feel like the Lone Ranger. His son has taken over Duane’s oil business, there are no women in his life, and he is not all that crazy about his two daughters. If it were not for his grandson, frankly, he would not feel particularly close to anyone in his family.Duane Moore is one of modern literature’s memorable characters, and Larry McMurtry fans have been following his progress for literally a lifetime. Rhino Ranch is a good way to say goodbye.Rated at: 5.0
  • (4/5)
    To my sadness, I found that this is the concluding chapter of Duane Moore's story, which began with "The Last Picture Show" in 1966. This is a very meandering story, but it fits Duane Moore, probably in his late 60's and feeling at somewhat loose ends when his second wife, Annie, phones him from Europe to tell him she has fallen in love with a Frenchman and would appreciate letting the lawyers handle it peacefully. And Thalia, Texas is now the home to billionairess K.K. Slater's Rhino Ranch, an effort to save the endangered black rhinoceros. With this as a constant backdrop, Duane moseys into a medley of new relationships which cement his developing belief that he hasn't really learned very much about women, but that's okay because he certainly isn't alone there. As unlikely as some of the dalliances he has with significantly younger women may seem, it didn't really bother me because Duane comes off as such a congenially befuddled nice guy that I found myself rooting for him, and was saddened by the ten-year-later epilogue that abruptly concludes this saga. I've read a few of them (the later ones); now I feel compelled to go back and find the earlier books.
  • (3/5)
    It's a pleasure to read this lean, humorous last chapter of the story of Duane Moore and Thalia, Texas. I really like McMurtry's writing.
  • (4/5)
    This is the fifth and final entry in McMurtry's "Thalia, Texas" series that begins with The Last Picture Show. When a billionairess decides to purchase a large tract of land outside Thalia and set up a game preserve to try to save an African Rhino species facing extinction, the locals of Thalia come face to face with the outside world in ways they don't necessarily appreciate. The novel is thoughtful and elegiac in tone, as characters we've come to care about face innumerable changes in the world they've known and bump up against their own mortality. McMurtry keeps things whimsical and fun, though. There is even a touch of magical realism. One drawback for me is that the storytelling is formatted into small little bite-sized chunks, many short chapters of only a page or two in length, so individual situations are rarely explored in depth. I found this distracting and sometimes frustrating, especially through the first third of the book. As things proceed, however, one begins to go more easily with the flow, and the layering of these incidents and insights provides a pleasing if not fully satisfying whole.
  • (3/5)
    I've heard that men think about sex 95% of the time, Yep.
  • (3/5)
    I’ve read most of Larry McMurtry’s non-Western novels, which is habit more than enjoyment, because every time I finish one, I wonder not only why he’s lauded, but why I spent time chasing his words. More than any other “literary” novelist, he seems to make stories out of nothing at all … the page-turning equivalent of Seinfeld. And of all the characters he’s chronicled, he’s made the most out of the nothing that is Duane Moore, most recently sighted in Rhino Ranch.Moore is, as previously titled, depressed: his second wife has dumped him for another man, he’s being pursued by a teenaged porn star, and is intrigued by a globe-trotting billionaire with the urge to rescue the endangered black rhinoceros on a dusty Texas preserve. He also uses a lot of phone minutes chatting with his former therapist, Honor Carmichael, who now lives in New England with her latest lover. Duane engages in all sorts of silly behavior – the most egregious being a vasectomy – basically giving McMurtry 278 pages to document his drinking, spending and sexual escapades, as well as fulfilling whatever remains of his contract with Simon & Schuster.If you need a forgettable book to read on an airplane or sitting by the hospital bedside of a loved one, Rhino Ranch is a good choice. Otherwise, to quote the author himself … horseman, pass by.
  • (2/5)
    Wow! What a disappointment. What has McMurtry been smoking lately? A X-rated account of a bunch of mixed up misfits stumbling through life with little success. And what an absurd premise to begin with. I feel embarrassed for the author. I feel mad at myself for sticking it out till the bitter end. The only thing this novel has going for it is short chapters. Did I mention I didn't like it?
  • (3/5)
    Rhino Ranch is the story of Duane Moore, a hardworking and successful man in Thalia, TX. After his wife leaves him, Duane meets up with a billionaires named K.K. Slater who is importing endangered black rhinos into town in an effort to save them. This is the backdrop to introduce us to the zany characters of a small Texas town as well as the melancholy and loneliness Duane feels in his old age.Slowly the rhinos fade out of the story, which is too bad because they were more believable than the quirky, and not-so-quirky, characters who pop in and out of the pages of this book. The author writes about Duane as if the reader is familiars with the series of books, but even though I haven't read the previous books I liked Duane, his friends and even his grandson which seemed to be the only sane character in the book. McMurtry can sure write cowboys, but the women lacked depth, each one was promiscuous on some level and wanted to lay one of the three elderly (late 60's early 70's) cowboys who the story mostly revolved around.That being said, I thought the dialog was wonderful and the character development through mostly just talk was superb storytelling.As mentioned, the rhinos all but disappear half way through the story. Rhinoceros are animals which has many symbolism attached to them such as freedom, stability, judgment and peace of mind among others. It seemed to me (maybe it was intentional, maybe not) that Duane's outlook is changing once the rhino he perceived to be his friend disappeared. At first, when his young wife left him, Duane is sad, but now he has his freedom to go fishing or spend nights in his cabin, as well as peace of mind (since his wife was cheating on him openly) all while looking forward to his daily walk to his cabin, through the rhino ranch, accompanied by his rhino friend. Once the rhinos disappeared he started questioning himself, losing his confidence, developing conspiracy theories, etc.This book is easy to read, with lots and lots of white space, some of the chapters are half a page and none longer then two pages. Strangely enough, some of the chapters are split, or so it seemed to me, without any rhyme or reason. When I started this book I didn't realize it was part of a series - so please keep that in mind as well.