cover image The Killing Hills

The Killing Hills

Chris Offutt. Grove, $26 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8021-5841-3

Offutt's brooding and bloody country noir (after Country Dark) takes readers to the hollers of rural Kentucky, where meth and Oxycontin ravage the population, and havoc is wrought by long-festering family feuds. Mick Hardin, a traumatized veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now working as an Army intelligence agent, teams up with his sheriff sister to solve the murder of Nonnie Johnson after her body is discovered deep in the woods. In the process, they find themselves pitted against coal tycoon Murvil Knox; a meddling agent FBI agent who fingers an obvious patsy in disturbed outsider Tanner Curtis; roughneck brothers Bobby and Billy; and a pair of bumbling henchmen sent by arch-criminal Charley Flowers. Soon Hardin is up to his ears in intrigue and trying to keep a low profile as he interrogates suspects including local miscreant Fuckin' Barney; Knox's hapless nephew Delmer Collins; Nonnie's vengeful son, Frankie; and the earthy Old Man Tucker, who found Nonnie's body. Not only will Hardin have to find his man somewhere among this cast of backwoods desperados, he'll need to do so before he becomes a casualty of grudges old and new. The lean prose elicits more than a hard-boiled style, and while the brisk yet gnarled atmosphere is reminiscent of Winter's Bone, the dime-store crime novels of Jim Thompson, or even William Faulkner's Sanctuary, Offutt brilliantly evokes the body and soul of his wounded hero. It adds up to a mesmerizing and nightmarish view of what lurks just over the hills. This is sure to be Offutt's breakout. (June)