The Killing Hills-Book Review

The Killing HillsThe Killing Hills by Chris Offutt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book review, The Killing Hills, by Chris Offutt, Grove Press, 2021, 219 pages

In this short novel, the author takes the reader on a journey to the eastern hills of Kentucky where a woman has been murdered, and an unlikely brother-sister team are positioned to solve it. Mick, now AWOL from the criminal investigation department (CID) of the army stationed in Germany, has been called upon by his sister, Linda, now Sheriff of the small, insular Appalachian community, to assist in the investigation. Having served in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan, Mick notes the similarity in the use of violence between the clans living in the hollers of Kentucky and those groups in Afghanistan. On a personal level Mick must also solve the mystery of who fathered the baby his now pregnant wife carries. Mick and Peggy knew each other as children, married at 19 and have spent the better part of their 12 year old marriage apart.
The author uses an array of creative language to both describe the environment in which the story takes place and the dialogue of the characters. Examples are:
“Mick left his sister’s house and headed east. The sun lay above the hillside as if resting, tinging the western treetops with flame…He made a sharp curve to a ridge that ended at a house surrounded by heavy woods. There was more sun here and he a briefly pitied people who lived in the hollers where it was already night.
He waited in the truck and watched for dogs. People unaccustomed to visitors in an unknown vehicle were capable of greeting a strangers with a weapon.”
And the dialogue conveys the uniqueness of the people:
“Your son is more or less why I’m here.
Which one?
Uh, well, Mick hesitated, your second boy, I reckon.
Oh, she said. Fuckin’ Barney. He ain’t here right now.
You call him that too?
We’re a nickname family. You know Shifty’s not my real name, either. It’s Camille Littleton, then I got married and my husband started in calling me Shifty because the only clothes I had were shifts my mother made. Now we got Cricket, Jimbo, Junebug, Sheetrock, Doodle and Rickets.”
Rickets. Ain’t that a disease?
Yeah, but he ain’t never had it. Just born bow-legged.”

I enjoyed reading this artfully crafted novel. The story is tightly woven and I read it in two sittings. The characters came alive. The setting exposed me to an area of the country I had only some scant familiarity with when I visited my sister, Jo-Ann, when she worked as a geologist for a coal company in West Virginia, and had just experienced one of their yearly floods in the holler in which she resided with her family. It is my understanding that this is the first mystery/thriller set in the eastern hills of Kentucky. I recommend it withs 4 stars.

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