Brian Panowich returns to McFalls County with Hard Cash Valley. But don’t expect another entry in the annals of the Burroughs family. Panowich is moving on with (almost entirely) new characters and a new story. It is still a very country noir story in a very country noir setting with a very country noir atmosphere.
The main character is Dane Kirby, a former arson investigator for the fire department and sheriff in the next county over relegated to a desk job with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. He is damaged goods—broken by personal tragedy and in poor health—but the FBI pulls him into the investigation of a brutal murder after a simple plan gone wrong. The killing was done in Florida, but it has ties to a cockfighting tournament held in McFalls County. One man is dead, but his 11-year-old brother is still out there.
The start in Florida made me think of Elmore Leonard. Elmore Leonard is what I am in the mood for. Hard Cash Valley isn’t quite that. Panowich writes country noir that falls more on the pulp side of the scale than the literary side. But history and loss and violence cast a pall over everything in Hard Cash Valley. Lots of violence in Florida, less of the other two.
Hard Cash Valley might be my favorite Panowich novel. I liked the Burroughs clan stories, but things could get a little overwrought and soapy. The history is no less important here, and it cuts a bit deeper.
It all makes for a twisty, intriguing crime story and a solid country noir. The little things hold it back a bit on the latter score. Maybe I am a bit sensitive to the nuance of our federalist system with everything going on with the response to COVID-19, but the GBI is not in fact part of the FBI. And I’ve been in a lot of trailers. I’ve never been in one with granite countertops.
4.5 of 5 Stars.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of Hard Cash Valley via NetGalley.