Country Noir: This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash

Country noir isn’t quite regional.  Or, rather, it is regional in that it is a subgenre that demands a sense of place.  But it isn’t tied to any particular region.  It does even really need to be set in the country.  You could (and someone really should) write an excellent country noir set in the former hillbilly enclave in Uptown Chicago.  That being said, the western half of North Carolina has provided the setting for a truly disproportionate number of quality country noir tales.  Ron Rash is the dean of the country noir oeuvre (fight me, Daniel Woodrell fans), but ably following in his footsteps are David Joy and Wiley Cash.

This Dark Road to Mercy is my first Wiley Cash novel (he has written three).  I found it a flawed work, but a thoroughly enjoyable one nonetheless and one that shows frequent flashes of brilliance.

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SF: Congregations of the Dead by James A. Moore and Charles R. Rutledge

The man that wandreth out of the way of wisdom shall abide in the congregation of the dead. – Proverbs 21:16

I bought Congregations of the Dead over a year ago on a bit of a lark because it was cheap.  Which isn’t to sale that it didn’t sound right up my alley.  A country noir/urban fantasy/horror mashup with significant pulp influences?  (A secondary character is named Carter DeCamp in an obvious homage to Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp and Manly Wade Wellman’s characters Silver John and John Thunstone seem obvious influences as well.)  What I didn’t realize is how damn good it would be.

Congregations of the Dead is the second in Griffin & Price novel, and I was a little thrown off at first as Moore and Rutledge tied up loose ends from the first book.  But other than that hiccup, I found this an easy entrée into the series.  I will definitely be picking up the other books though.  I would say start with book one, but it looks like it isn’t available right now.

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SF: Harlan County Horrors, edited by Mari Adkins

Over the course of a life hard lived, the minder and the town and the mountain became as one, and no one ever left Harlan alive.

Country noir fits easily with horror.  What is scarier than a long, dark shaft in an abandoned coal mine?  Might our greed for the black stuff cause us to dig too deep?  Might the violence on the surface go beyond the natural into the supernatural?

I was delighted to learn that Apex released a collection of short horror stories set in Harlan County, Kentucky (originally famous for the coal mine labor strife featured in Harlan County, USA and more recently famous as the setting for neo-Western Justified).

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Country Noir: Heaven, My Home by Attica Locke

“That was the thing about second changes—it was impossible to know what was real or what wasn’t; every act of forgiveness was a leap of faith.”

Texas Ranger Darren Matthews is finally starting to get his life together after the events of Bluebird, Bluebird.  He is back on the job.  If it at a desk, the time home is allowing him to repair his relationship with his wife, and he is doing important work on a federal-state task force building a case against the Aryan Brotherhood.  His drinking is under control.  The only hitch is his no-account mother blackmailing him, but everything really goes to shit when a boy goes missing on the Texas-Louisiana border.

Heaven, My Home is the second book in Locke’s Highway 59 Mystery series.

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SF: Desper Hollow by Elizabeth Massie

Just a couple of weeks ago I was talking about how a crime story fit uneasily into a second-world fantasy shell.  A country noir shell, on the other hand, is an excellent fit for any number of sorts of SF stories.  Including a zombie yarn.  Desper Hollow is just that: a country noir zombie fantasy set deep in the hollers of Virginia.

The framing that opens the book and slow reveals the zombie angle is a little weird and unwieldy, but it builds to an incredibly taut set piece in the final third of the book.

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The Harp of Kings is a character-driven, Celtic fantasy

There is a rich vein of Celtic history and mythology that runs from The Harp of Kings and pre-Christian Ireland all the way to Alex Bledsoe’s Tufa novels and Appalachia. The Harp of Kings benefits from that rich history, creating something with greater resonance than the pale imitation of an imitation fantasy that has clogged the genre over the past few decades. But it is really the characters, not the worldbuilding, that carries The Harp of Kings.

Every Day Should Be Tuesday

“A person can never hear too many tales.  Tales are like honey cakes.  Once you have tasted one, you want another, and another, and always more.”

There is a rich vein of Celtic history and mythology that runs from The Harp of Kings and pre-Christian Ireland all the way to Alex Bledsoe’s Tufa novels and Appalachia.  The Harp of Kings benefits from that rich history, creating something with greater resonance than the pale imitation of an imitation fantasy that has clogged the genre over the past few decades.  But it is really the characters, not the worldbuilding, that carries The Harp of Kings.

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Thick as Thieves is Fun, Pulpy SF Crime Fiction

Writing about a fantasy book that tries to be an Elmore Leonard-style crime fiction story as well raised some interesting thoughts about the nature of crime fiction.

Every Day Should Be Tuesday

Thick as Thieves is a pulpy adventure SF tale about a burly soldier-turned-tavern bouncer, Brick, who makes the mistake of agreeing to a simple plan and gets involved over his head in a heist.  Although Lizzi is really telling more of a Elmore Leonard-style crime story than a straight heist.  Lizzi gives us a quick, pulpy read (234 pages) that comes with surprisingly depth, economically doled out in small bits.  It is a fun story, if not one that blew me away.

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