I have been slacking on my country noir reading here lately. I did find the time to finally crack open Tom Franklin’s short story collection Poachers, which includes the title story and nine other works of short fiction country noir. Each is set in South Alabama.
The setting is almost always a character in country noir tales, with a deep rooting in place a key element of the sub-genre. This short story collection benefits both from all its stories being set in South Alabama and from that South Alabama setting being where Franklin was born and raised. Characters shared across at least a couple stories reinforces that all this takes place in one place. He draws heavily from his own experience, both as a native and from old jobs listed on the back cover like “heavy-equipment operator in a grit factory” (the first story is set in a grit factory) and at a chemical plant (more than one character works at the local chemical plant).
Each story is atmospheric and boasts fleshy characters. The stories in the middle suffer from a lack of plot (as a matter of fact, Franklin does have an MFA—why do you ask?), but the collection is carried by extremely strong bookends. In the first story, Grit, a grit factory manager learns, a la When the Women Come Out to Dance, that to dip your toe into the criminal underworld is to let it control you. The story is suitably dark and bloody. If anyone outside of speculative fiction used the term, Poachers would qualify as a novelette, stretching across 60 of the collection’s 189 pages. It is a cat-and-mouse game—and a bloody one lacking parity, as real cat-and-mouse games tend to be—between three half-feral, poacher brothers and a vengeful game warden.
Table of Contents:
Introduction (Hunting Years)
The Ballad of Duane Juarez
A Tiny History
4 of 5 Stars.