Reavis Wortham’s debut, The Rock Hole drew comparisons to Harper Lee and Joe R. Lansdale. In his third book, The Right Side Of Wrong, he moves into the territory of Cormac McCarthy. The books have grown darker and the characters confront more ambiguous themes, which amps up the atmosphere and fun.
The book starts with Center Springs, TX constable, Cody Parker driving in a freak snow storm to answer a domestic disturbance call and getting shot off the road. Left for dead, Parker is saved by Tom Bell, an elderly man who has taken up residence in Center Springs. Ned, Cody’s uncle who is a semi-retired constable asks for the help of John Washington, the black deputy in nearby Paris, Texas, to look into the crime. The investigation leads to two murdered moonshiners. As the investigation continues Ned’s niece and nephew, Top and Pepper, start up a friendship with their mysterious new neighbor, Mr. Bell, which is a concern to Ned.
Like McCarthy, Wortham deals with the idea of borders with this novel; things escalates when any of the characters cross into Oklahoma or Mexico. The theme fits well in the series, which looks at the 60s effect on a small Texas town that has changed little over the years. The Beach Boys and Johnny Rivers are pushing Hank Williams and Johnny Rodgers off the radio and the drug racket is moving in on the moonshine trade. Like its title suggests, The Right Side of Wrong looks at the lines crossed when good men have to do bad things; something that culminates in a bloodbath near the end. For Wortham’s characters, you don’t cross those borders and come back the same, if you come back at all.
Reavis Wortham’s talent as a writer lies in his ability to bring light into this dark story, giving us a full human experience. Much of this is done by employing humor (something lacking in much of McCarthy’s work). This seems to be the main reason to have Top and Pepper, especially with the chapters told through Top’s perspective. Wortham is able able to bring everything down to character; there is a conversation between Ned and Tom Bell that holds as much tension as the gunfights.
The Right Side Of Wrong is so involved with its time and place, it transcends it. In the the first two books we watched the citizens of Center Springs confront changing times, but now we see they are beginning to change themselves. I’m curious to see what lines they’ll cross in the future.
Reavis Wortham will be at BookPeople, discussing and signing The Right Side Of Wrong, July 22nd for our Lone Star Mystery Panel that also includes George Wier and Tim Bryant.