cover image Don’t Know Tough

Don’t Know Tough

Eli Cranor. Soho Crime, $24.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-64129-345-7

Trent Powers, the hero of Cranor’s arresting debut, and his family move from California to Denton, Ark., where Trent has been hired to coach the Pirates, the town’s high school football team. The Pirates make it to the playoffs, though things sour when star player Billy Lowe, who shares a trailer with his single mother, hits rich kid Austin Murphy too hard in practice, putting the coach in a bind on whether to play or bench Billy and placing him at odds with his wife, who’s desperate to get back to California. Meanwhile, homelife in the Lowes’ trailer falls apart when Billy knocks out Travis Rodney, his mother’s abusive boyfriend. The discovery of Travis’s rotting body a week later raises the stakes. Cranor builds tension by shifting between third person and Billy’s first-person account as the idealistic Trent contends with some powerful locals whose values are at odds with his own. Evocative prose is a plus (“Arkansas hills produce crazy like the Earth’s mantle produces diamonds: enough heat and pressure to make all things hard”). Readers will be curious to see what Cranor does next. Agent: Alexa Stark, Trident Media. (Mar.)