Desert Reckoning

Jul 11, 2012

Deanne Stillman’s book chronicles the manhunt of scientist, desert hermit, and murderer Donald Kueck.

The Wild West is not dead – it lives on in the vast Mojave desert north of Los Angeles. This modern wild west is peopled by ranchers, cowboys, bikers, squatters, felons and a host of iconoclasts who shun civilization, preferring the outlier lifestyle.

One such iconoclast was Donald Kueck, a brilliant scientist and desert hermit who lived in a trailer on remote patch of land. On an August day in 2003, Deputy Sheriff Steve Sorenson was gunned down by Kueck after approaching his trailer. Kueck’s subsequent flight into the desert set off the biggest manhunt in California history, marshalling the efforts of the DEA, the FBI, the Air Force, an L.A. SWAT team and a Gulf-war era tank nicknamed the BEAR.

Somehow, Kueck managed to elude this 21st-century posse for a full week, using survival skills perfected over years of desert life. The final, fiery denouement is worthy of a John Ford movie. Deanne Stillman has written extensively about the California desert and its denizens. In telling this story, she has crafted an epic and compelling modern Western.


Deanne Stillman, author of Desert Reckoning: A Town Sheriff, a Mojave Hermit and the Biggest Manhunt in Modern California History (Nation Books), and faculty member at UC Riverside-Palm Desert Low Residency MFA Creative Writing Program. Her previous books are Mustang and Twentynine Palms.

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