Published by St. Martin's Press on March 20th 2018
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“Because dying’s better than wishing you had.”
It’s the 1950’s and Rory Docherty has returned home from the Korean War with a wooden leg. It’s hard to find good paying legitimate work with a wooden leg, so Rory has become a whisky-runner. He makes deliveries to brothels, roadhouses, and private clients. Haunted by horrific dreams of the war, he lives with his grandmother, Maybelline “Granny May” Docherty. She is known for many things on the mountain, one of which is being a healer. People come to her for various cures and treatments but refuse to look at her as she walks down the street.
Granny May raised Rory after his mother was admitted to an Asylum after a horrific attack that left her lover dead and robbed her of her ability to speak and raise her child. The identity of the attackers has never been known; however, Granny has been known to carry around in her pocket the eye of a man – could this be the guilty party?
The whisky running has gained the attention of federal agents. Add into the mix stock car racing, romance, and a snake handling preacher and you have yourself an interesting novel full of quirky characters. There are a lot of secrets on Howl Mountain. Secrets that some want to keep a secret while there are others who desperately want to know the truth.
“Sometimes when you get what you want, you don’t like it so much.”
One of the things I really enjoyed about this book was the imagery. The descriptions are clear and evoked a feeling of being there. I felt as if I were there as a quiet observer watching everything that was happening in this novel: all the violence, the harsh words, the strutting around, etc. The imagery is really one of the stars in this book. I felt as if I was experiencing the action and not just reading it.
This book is a beautifully written “gritty” southern novel which showcases a mountain where everyone knows everyone, where people vie for power, where past insults are not forgotten, wrongs need to be set right, where families have secrets and towns have healers and snake handlers. It’s a rough environment – a dog eat dog type of community, if you will. The language/dialect fits the mood and the imagery in this book. This book has a melancholy feel to it. These people know poverty, they know crime, they know heartache, they know violence, they know love and they know how to survive.
Granny May was my favorite character. She’s a tough old broad as my Grandmother would say. She sits in her rocking chair smoking her pipe, another quiet observer of life on the Mountain. She has lived a hard life, has made hard decisions and has done what she feels is best to raise and protect her Grandson. She is a part of the Mountain and the mountain is part of her.
There were times while I was reading this book that I forgot this book is set in the 1950’s. Change the make of cars and the war Rory fought in and this could be a current day novel (perhaps exchange the whisky running for some other recreations drug).
I also enjoyed the sections that slowly unfolded telling the story of Rory’s Mother and her lover. I thought this was a very nice touch. I also enjoyed how writing was different. Not just the script but in the prose. I really appreciated this as it helped set these sections apart and shows their significance to the current story.
Gritty, raw and beautifully written. This isn’t a happy go lucky book, but it’s a damn good one!
Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.