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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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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Country Noir: Like Lions by Brian Panowich

“Like most of the people who lived in the foothills of McFalls County, the dogwood tree did whatever it damn well pleased.”

In Like Lions, the sequel to his sprawling, multigenerational crime drama Bull Mountain, Panowich not only manages to exceed his first work but also to produce new and shocking Burroughs family revelations without undercutting Bull Mountain.

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Country Noir: Bearskin by James McLaughlin

Rick Morton is caretaker and science tech for over seven thousand acres of private nature preserve, a large chunk of which is old-growth forest.  He is also Rice Moore, an ex-con on the run from the Cartel.

Bearskin is gorgeously written but understated.  It’s literary without sacrificing plot.  It’s bloody without being mindless.  It contains a touch of the supernatural (maybe) and a touch of the surreal.  It walks a fine line between the people and the place of the mountains of Virginia.

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