Desert Reckoning by Deanne Stillman
A Town Sheriff, a Mojave Hermit, and the Biggest Manhunt in Modern California History

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North of Los Angeles - the studios, the beaches, Rodeo Drive - lies a sparsely populated region that comprises fully one half of Los Angeles County. Sprawling across 2200 miles, this shadow side of Los Angeles is in the high Mojave Desert. Known as the Antelope Valley, it's a terrain of savage dignity, a vast amphitheatre of startling wonders that put on a show as the megalopolis burrows northward into the region's last frontier. Ranchers, cowboys, dreamers, dropouts, bikers, hikers, and felons have settled here - those who have chosen solitude over the trappings of contemporary life or simply have nowhere else to go. But in recent years their lives have been encroached upon by the creeping spread of subdivisions, funded by the once easy money of subprime America. McMansions - many empty now - gradually replaced Joshua trees; the desert - America's escape hatch - began to vanish as it became home to a latter-day exodus of pilgrims.

It is against the backdrop of these two competing visions of land and space that Donald Kueck - a desert hermit who loved animals and hated civilization - took his last stand, gunning down beloved deputy sheriff Steven Sorensen when he approached his trailer at high noon on a scorching summer day. As the sound of rifle fire echoed across the Mojave, Kueck took off into the desert he knew so well, kicking off the biggest manhunt in modern California history until he was finally killed in a Wagnerian firestorm under a full moon as nuns at a nearby convent watched and prayed.

This manhunt was the subject of a widely praised article by Deanne Stillman, first published in Rolling Stone, a finalist for a PEN Center USA journalism award, and included in the anthology Best American Crime Writing 2006. In Desert Reckoning she continues her desert beat and uses Kueck’s story as a point of departure to further explore our relationship to place and the wars that are playing out on our homeland. In addition, Stillman also delves into the hidden history of Los Angeles County, and traces the paths of two men on a collision course that could only end in the modern Wild West. Why did a brilliant, self-taught rocket scientist who just wanted to be left alone go off the rails when a cop showed up? What role did the California prison system play in this drama? What happens to people when the American dream is stripped away? And what is it like for the men who are sworn to protect and serve?


About Deanne Stillman

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Deanne Stillman is a widely published, critically acclaimed writer. Her books include Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West, a Los Angeles Times "Best Book 2008," and winner of the California Book Award silver medal for nonfiction, and Twentynine Palms: A True Story of Murder, Marines, and the Mojave, a Los Angeles Times "Best Book 2001" which Hunter Thompson called "A strange and brilliant story by an important American writer." Now a cult classic, it's out in a new, updated edition with a foreword by T. Jefferson Parker and preface by Charles Bowden. Desert Reckoning is based on her Rolling Stone article, "Mojave Manhunt," a finalist for a PEN journalism award. She writes the "Letter from the West" column for and is a member of the core faculty at the UC-Riverside-Palm Desert Low Residency MFA Creative Writing Program.
Published July 3, 2012 by Nation Books. 322 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Political & Social Sciences, Crime. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Stillman’s prose can become heated—the deputy “was blazing a path behind a badge and a wall of will”—but she does an admirable job building a full portrait of this beleaguered landscape by looking at individual characters, including Sorensen’s aggrieved fellow officers and the eccentric ruffians ...

Jun 15 2012 | Read Full Review of Desert Reckoning: A Town Sher...

Publishers Weekly

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Soon, Stillman speculates, the building of the High Desert Corridor, a highway scheduled for completion in 2020, will “drive the remaining castaways deeper into the desert...

May 07 2012 | Read Full Review of Desert Reckoning: A Town Sher...

Denver Post

Deputy sheriff Stephen Sorensen was on his day off when he drove onto property in the Mojave desert owned by ex-con Donald Kueck, who shot and killed him, then vanished into the desert.

Jul 08 2012 | Read Full Review of Desert Reckoning: A Town Sher...

City Book Review

In this true crime story, readers will learn about a crazy hermit who lived in the Mohave desert community of Antelope Valley in California, killed a well-liked sheriff, and was on the lam for seven days.

Sep 07 2012 | Read Full Review of Desert Reckoning: A Town Sher...

Los Angeles Review of Books

this shines through when she discusses the synchronicities that guided her during the research and writing of Desert Reckoning — the mustang (subject of her 2008 book, Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West) that led her to Sorenson’s house, the Snake Fountain she happened upon ...

Aug 19 2012 | Read Full Review of Desert Reckoning: A Town Sher...

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