MysteryPeople Review: PALE HORSES by Nate Southard

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.

______________________

Copies of Pale Horses are available on our shelves at BookPeople and via bookpeople.com

Mystery Review: THE SECOND DEATH OF JACK HARBIN

bf58ec5e77bd11e399040e1b15b34746_8

Terry Shames showed amazing promise last summer with her debut, A Killing At Cotton Hill. The book, featuring her series character Samuel Craddock, a widowed retired Chief of Police, looked at issues of aging and community in a small Texas town. In her follow up, The Second Death of Jack Harbin, she digs even deeper into Craddock’s story.

Before his own life is cut short, death seems to be a regular part of the title character’s life. Jack Harbin, the former high school football player, witnessed plenty of death in Iraq before he lost his sight and legs in the war. At the beginning of the book, his father and caretaker dies of a heart attack. Then, Samuel finds Jack brutally murdered in his home while stopping by to check in on him. Asked to look further into the killing, Samuel uncovers a shady V.A. home, issues with the local football team, and other dark and complex revelations . Much of the mystery seems to center on a love triangle between Jack, his former best friend, Woody Patterson, and the woman they both love – she married Woody when Jack went off to fight in the war.

In Shames’s world and writing, still rivers run deep. She subtly looks at the effects of war on a small town, the town’s passion for high school football, tested friendships, and broken dreams. Her nuanced touch makes it a truly moving novel. Samuel may have solved the murder, but not the issues surrounding it. The best he can do is serve witness. With his even temper and experienced insight, that may be even more important.

The Last Death Of Jack Harbin is a moving mystery. Like A Killing At Cotton Hill, it focuses on  parts of our society we don’t look at enough in a true and engaging fashion. Terry Shames has exceeded expectations for her second book and set higher ones for her third.

______________________________________________

MysteryPeople welcomes Terry Shames to BookPeople on Monday, Jan 27 at 7PM to speak about & sign copies of The Last Death of Jack Harbin.

MP Pick of the Month: THE RAGE by Gene Kerrigan

The Rage by Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan is an Irish author who has drawn comparisons to Elmore Leonard, probably due to his entertaining look at the mundane lives of his his coppers and villains and seemingly loose plot lines that tie together in a fitting conclusion. If the comparison is true, the books resemble those from Leonard’s “Detroit Period”. In some of his first crime novels like Unknown Man #89 and City Primeval, Leonard held more grit than his later, quirkier work. He looked at cops and working class criminals in a way that reflected the people and problems of his decaying city. The same could be said of Kerrigan’s Dublin in The Rage.

The winner of last year’s Gold Dagger award for Best Crime Novel, The Rage focuses on three characters who reflect different sides of Ireland. DS Bob Tidey is a good lawman dealing with the politics in his squad room as well as the perps on the street. Then comes Vincent Naylor, fresh out of prison and back with his old crew for a new robbery. Bringing these two together is Maura Cody, a retired nun who has only the view from her window for entertainment. What she witnesses will draw all three of them together for a violent confrontation.

Each character is loyal to a group that may not be worthy of them. While Vincent is ruthless and violent, he’s loyal to a crew that creates messes that he has to brutally clean up. Tidey has to contend with the possibility of committing perjury for some less than stellar officers, knowing his life on the job will be hell if he doesn’t. He and Maura have an interesting conversation about how they each carry the sins of their institutions, and the public scandals that color the way people see them as individuals.

While it works as an intertwined crime novel and police procedural, The Rage is basically about people trying to find there way in a society that traded Catholicism for a capitalism that failed. Each has been failed by what they serve, but they continue on in it, in some blind search for grace. Grace, itself, even comes into question near the end when Maura admits to having her doubts about confession:

“…No one has the right to the clean slate, except the people we’ve harmed. And they’re out there somewhere, struggling to get on with their lives- our guilt is not their problem.”

In Kerrigan’s Dublin, they’re not only trying to figure out where the money went, but their purpose as well.

MysteryPeople Review: GODS AND BEASTS by Denise Mina

Gods and Beasts by Denise Mina

Review by Scott Montgomery

Denise Mina has proven to be one of the most important writers in international crime fiction. She marries the human and social aspects of the genre like no one else. Her work is political without being preachy, writing about the undercurrents of issues in her home city of Glasgow that are relatable to any place. Her latest, Gods and Beasts, is no exception.

Mina gives us three plot lines in her third novel involving Detective Sergeant Alex Morrow. The book starts with a murder during a post office robbery, where the assailant cuts down an elderly man with an AK 47. The victim’s history, a citizen involved with social change, hints at a connection to another story line involving a progressive politician fighting off (accurate) allegations of his involvement with a seventeen-year-old intern. Long time readers of Denise Mina will be happy to see her other series character, reporter Paddy Meehan, make a few appearances in this plot line. The third story hits close to home, when austerity cuts in the police force help push two officers under Morrow’s watch into stealing some money from a drug dealer and getting themselves blackmailed. Morrow finds herself dealing with all of this and her newborn twins.

What makes all of this work is Mina’s human awareness. She shows her characters in all shades whether copper or villain, with enough insight into their personal lives to push them past those simple definitions. Gods and Beasts also has the social consciousness of her other books. One gets the feeling that the people at large, particularly the disenfranchised, are the really the main recipients of many of the events and their outcomes.

The Glasgow setting also plays an important role. It feels, socially, more like a town than a city, with fewer degrees of separation between coppers, criminals, politicians, and average citizens. Because of this, the collisions and conflicts between them are more intimate and dramatic.

Gods and Beasts works as a believable crime novel that takes one of the genres major ideas, the fallout of bad decisions, and gives it a deeper meaning. It also serves as a current look into Mina’s Glasgow in a way we can relate to, if not recognize in detail. It’s further proof that her reputation is earned.

Shotgun Blast from the Past: DADDY COOL by Donald Goines

Daddy Cool by Donald Goines

I’d heard about Donald Goines and his novel Daddy Cool for years without picking it up. As much as I hate to admit, it probably had something to do with the bad cover art. I finally relented a few months ago after reading Ken Bruen’s hip Books To Die For essay on the novel. Not only is Ken a great crime writer, he knows his crime fiction.

The title character of Daddy Cool is a hit man with a specialty in knives. His livelihood has awarded him the middle class dream. He owns a house in the working class suburbs, a pool hall in the ghetto, and has a good wife. His children consist of two wanna-be gangster stepsons and his daughter Janet who is the light of his life.

That light goes dark when Janet falls for Ronald, a young pimp. Knowing the street life and how Ronald works, Daddy Cool tries to intervene in the affair. It only makes Janet run to the boy faster. These domestic travails start affecting his work, especially on a job in LA.

Things get worse when dark fate intervenes. The stepsons become involved in a robbery of one of Daddy Cool’s employers where a teenage girl is raped. To make things right Cool has to kill the two. It sets in motion a gutter Greek tragedy with one sharp, sorrowful, and violent ending.

Goines, a heroin addict and sometime criminal, brings his Detroit streets to life with little judgment and a lot of authenticity. You understand why so many rap artist pay homage to him. His tight plotting and terse prose depict an urban jungle of cracked concrete where a circle of death is played, destroying both community and family. Violence is expected and humanity is a luxury, yet Goines seems to find it where he can. You can hear a Curtis Mayfield score playing in the background while reading this.

Thanks again, Ken.