cover image Hillbilly Hustle

Hillbilly Hustle

Wesley Browne. West Virginia Univ, $19.99 (264p) ISBN 978-1-949199-28-4

Browne’s wry, thrilling debut follows a Kentucky restaurateur who moonlight as a drug dealer. Forty-something Knox Thompson, the overweight owner of marginally profitable Porthos Pizza, first meets Burl, “the man who would ruin him,” after winning a poker jackpot. Burl convinces Knox to buy a pound of pot to distribute, and Knox proceeds to begin a double life: running Porthos in Richmond, Ky., while, from the proceeds of his dealings with Burl and his associates, financially assisting his parents and trying to keep his tattoo artist girlfriend, Darla, in the dark about the danger from his side hustle. Though Knox hopes to coast on a modest profit from the drug sales, a setback at the pizza business sends him back to Burl for a loan. Desperate to stay on top of the loan payments, Knox’s dealing escalates and he bungles a series of risky situations and ends up in deeper trouble. Browne drolly contrasts Knox’s misadventures with a subplot involving the comparatively capable Porthos manager, Rob, who hires a young woman named Tori to help run the shop while Knox is away on his secret side business. Scenes with Tori learning how to make pizza amid a budding romance are a well-crafted counterbalance to Knox’s bumbling. This will appeal to fans of Daniel Woodrell and Charles Portis. (Mar.)