cover image Blackbelly


Heather Sharfeddin, . . Bridge Works, $21.95 (240pp) ISBN 978-1-882593-97-2

Sharfeddin weaves elements of suspense and the supernatural through this accomplished western about an ornery loner of a sheep rancher, Chas McPherson, who hires a home health-care nurse, Mattie Holden, to care for his dying father, a once powerful, wrathful preacher now incapacitated by Parkinson's. When the house of the lone Muslim family in Sweetwater is burned down, the inhabitants of the tiny Idaho town accuse Chas of arson, their old grudges against his father fueling their suspicion of the reclusive younger man. While Mattie improves the ranch with her womanly touch, she is troubled by the sense that the old man can see into people's souls and ferret out their sins. She also battles secret drug addictions, turning to the liquor bottles that Chas keeps for his own habit. Not surprisingly, Chas and Mattie find emotional and physical solace in each other. Authentic descriptions of the stark, isolated landscape, rustic conditions and the bitter winter form a backdrop to the characters' turmoil, suggesting a timelessness that is only occasionally broken with touches of modernity. Missteps, such as the awkward depiction of Chas and Mattie's sexual relationship, can break the spell that Sharfeddin casts, but this is an impressive debut. (Oct.)