Nate Southard is a new addition to the crime fiction genre, crossing over from his previous experience writing horror. Like Tom Piccirilli and David Schow, Southard uses his skill at mining the dark side to look at the human horror in our lives. He moves into the genre seamlessly with Pale Horses.
The book involves the murder of a woman that affects the lives of two men in a small Indiana town. Sheriff Hal Kendrick is one of the lawmen on the case. He’s trying to hide the fact that he is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. This is poignantly established in the first chapter. In the scene, Kendrick is preparing to go out to the crime scene while talking to his wife whose name he struggles to remember. The main suspect in the murder is Korey Hunt, a vet from Iraq, who is suffering from PTSD. Ostracized in town, Hunt lives with his mother, struggles to cope and often falls into a pattern of self-medicating at the local tavern. His violent outbursts and black-outs even make him doubt his own innocence.
The investigation pushes both men over the edge. Hal struggles to hide his condition as it gets worse, pushing away those closest to him. Korey’s mental state takes him further and further from finding peace; returning him to the violence in Iraq. Southard gives an insightful look into how both characters are marginalized – the treatment society gives to the walking wounded. Much like his past horror novels, Southard has created a town that must know its own descent into Hell to pay for its sins.
Pale Horses paints a portrait of modern rural America. Southard populates the place with vivid characters from it’s bar denizens, to easy going but sharp lawmen, and a villain with a Christina Ricci obsession. His women are strong, but strained from picking up the pieces of the broken men in their lives. Most impressive is the journey of the life of the victim prior to the crime. She comes alive in a way that keeps the story crisp.
Pale Horses is a novel that takes you over, subtly. Fusing genres and subgenres, it defies whatever predictions you have of it, leaving you with a feeling you just can’t shake.
If Nate Southard decides to spend more time in crime fiction, he’ll be most welcome.
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