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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SF: Devil’s Call by J. Danielle Dorn

Devil’s Call is one hell of a story, a bloody weird western propelled by protagonist Li Lian’s remarkable voice.

Li Lian is the mixed race daughter from a family where witchery runs on the female line.  She follows her husband, a former army doctor, to the Nebraska frontier.  It is there that something goes terribly wrong.

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Short Review Roundup – Fiction edition

I occasionally run “short review roundup” posts over at the other blog so I can knock out a few reviews at a time rather than write at length.  I am running behind on my reviews here, and I recently read a few books that don’t quite fall into the Hillbilly Highways wheelhouse but that I think are worth talking about anyway.

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Country Noir: The Orchard Keeper by Cormac McCarthy

The Orchard Keeper is about as powerful a statement on the ethos of Appalachia as can be written in fiction.

McCarthy has been compared favorably to both Faulkner and Melville; the Orchard Keeper is more Faulkner-esque, in contrast to the Border trilogy, which is more Melville-esque.  It is a truly challenging read.  All the payoff is at the end when you sit back and let the entirety of what you just read sink in.

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Fiction: Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

Cold Mountain begins with Inman, a confederate soldier, laid up convalescing in a military hospital.  As he heals, his dread of returning to the fighting grows and he eventually decides to strike out for home and his left love—in the shadows of Cold Mountain (near Brevard in modern-day western North Carolina).  That left love, Ada, a preacher’s daughter originally from Charleston, meanwhile, is trying to cope with the loss of her father and her newfound destitution.  She may not have survived but for a partnership with a mountain woman, Ruby, her complete opposite in almost every way and her likeness in every other.

I grew up in this part of the country, with roots in the area that go back to well before the Civil War, and the language rings truer than any I have read elsewhere, whether written by Ron Rash, Cormac McCarthy, or whoever.  And Frazier does it without resorting to phonetic spelling.  It really does read like it’s a story your grandfather is telling you by the fireplace after Sunday dinner.  One that was passed down to him from his grandfather.  There are so many sort of random details that just feel right.  It’s the sort of book I wanted to read at my desk with a notebook beside me but that I couldn’t bear to read so slowly the first time through.  The prose is beautiful by any measure.

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