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Starting in the Humboldt wilds and ending on the Skid Row of Los Angeles, Skunk Train follows two teenagers, Kyle and Lizzie, who stumble upon stolen drug money and set off to find Kyle’s father, a Hollywood director he’s never met, with drug dealers, dirty cops, and the Mexican mob on their heels.
Kyle Gill, fifteen, lives with his older cousin, Deke, in the backwater Northern California town of Dormundt. Kyle has been cutting class for the past three weeks. When Kyle returns home one afternoon, he discovers Deke and his business partner, Jimmy, are holding one hundred pounds of marijuana, which they discovered abandoned at their dealer’s house. Knowing people will soon come looking for the dope, Deke and Jimmy set up a quick deal at the Skunk Train Inn, a skeezy roadside motel, but the buyers turn out to be dirty cops. In the ensuing melee, Deke is killed, Jimmy escapes, and the dirty cops flee. Kyle takes off in Jimmy’s truck with the money that was transferred before the shootout.
On a mission to find his father, Kyle heads to San Francisco, where he meets Lizzie Decker, a wealthy high school senior, whose father has just been arrested for embezzlement. Together, Kyle and Lizzie join forces, but are soon pursued by Jimmy, the two dirty cops, and the Mexican cartel, as a third detective closes in, attempting to tie loose threads and solve the Skunk Train murders.
Drawing on novels featuring teenage protagonists such as Rule of the Bone and Catcher in the Rye, Skunk Train is a modern-day love story set against the backdrop of the NorCal marijuana trade. Like No Country for Old Men, the book is steeped in the colloquial. It is a fast-paced thriller, which tests the bonds of family and shows the lengths desperate people will go to keep a secret and protect the ones they love.
“In Skunk Train, Clifford channels the best of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone, and Richard Lange’s This Wicked World. Here a teenager on a mission endures and enacts all manner of crime. The road to becoming a man is not just rocky for Kyle, it is filled with figurative craters, sinkholes, and mountains. Buckle up and hold on tight. It’s a fast and rough road trip you won’t want to miss.” —Jeffery Hess, author of No Salvation
“Three are dead at the Skunk Train Inn and 15-year-old Kyle Gill is on the run with a bag of cash—hunted by a small-time dealer, crooked cops, and a Mexican cartel. A heart-pounding thriller which could be dubbed ‘no country for young men’.” —J.L. Abramo, Shamus Award-winning author of Gravesend
“Joe Clifford’s Skunk Train is fifteen year-old ‘loser’ Kyle Gill’s tough, adrenaline-fueled coming of age story that collides with northern California’s marijuana culture, San Francisco’s highest and lowest elements and the fringes of Hollywood. Gritty, raw and rough-edged, but with perceptive observations about life and a tender heart at its center. It’s so good every time I had to stop reading I couldn’t wait to get back to it to find out what was happening to Kyle and his girlfriend Lizzie. Tense, terse and fast paced—a must read.” —Paul D. Marks, Shamus Award-winning author of White Heat