When Douglas "Deesh" Sharp agrees to head upstate on a junk hauling run, he thinks he might be making a mistake. But he's lifelong pals with James and Bark, and despite the nagging doubt, he needs a little scratch. So they jump in Bark's truck and head to the job.

They've been asked to remove an oil drum from a woman's basement and discard it. For a thousand dollars, they load the drum and drive off. What follows for Deesh is a harrowing descent into a twisted world of crimes and miscalculations that lands him on Riker's Island, charged with the death of three men.

But Deesh is not the only lost soul in "Watch Me Go," Mark Wisniewski's third novel. It turns out that a whole cast of wayward sorts is making due at the Finger Lakes horse racing track. Not least among the dispossessed is Jan Price, an aspiring jockey whose fate is on a collision course with Deesh's.

Jan is a fatherless daughter, the daughter of a luckless mother. To make ends meet until her big chance on the track comes along, she makes money fishing for pay during the day and at night goes running in the dark to lose weight. She also spends a lot of time in between pining for Tug Corcoran, son of the infamous Tom Corcoran, a washed-out jockey and gambler who happens to be putting a roof over Jan's and her mother's heads.

It's a complicated situation, to be sure, but one Wisniewski manages to make clear in sharp, short chapters that alternate between Jan's and Deesh's point of view.

Between the two story lines, Wisniewski artfully brings to life the hardscrabble and crooked lives surrounding the Finger Lakes horse racing track. He shows us how racial prejudice still runs rampant in American life and how justice is sometimes meted out in the most circumstantial of ways. But perhaps most important, he brings to light the countless ways that love — romantic and familial — is as complicated as it is essential.

As the stories of Jan and Deesh reach their climactic ends, what becomes clear is that both of them are standing in for whole wide swaths of us: folks unlucky in love and life, burdened by the pasts of our ancestors and the prejudices of people who never could have known us.

Wisniewski is a sure and smart writer, and his philosophy never gets in the way of his story, which is suspenseful and original and wholly unpredictable.

Peter Geye is the author of two novels, most recently "The Lighthouse Road." He lives in Minneapolis.