Two new crime thrillers from Appalachia, reviewed

Posted by | November 8, 2010

From Los Angeles Times, Nov. 7, 2010:

Crimes grow in rich Appalachian soil
Sharyn McCrumb’s ‘The Devil Amongst the Lawyers’ and Vicki Lane’s ‘The Day of Small Things’ find a rare mix of thriller elements in a particular region.

By Sarah Weinman | Special to the Los Angeles Times

Appalachia’s mix of strong religious ties, farming, crop cultivation and Cherokee Indian folklore produces a brew that might be even more potent than the moonshine the region was long famous for. As a result, the crime fiction that originates from Appalachia teems with pungent smells and sounds and is steeped in the roots of generations of families — and, of course, in blood, especially of past sins coming due in the present.

Devil Amongst the Lawyers

The undisputed queen of such fiction — even though she has repeatedly professed to loathe being categorized this way — is Sharyn McCrumb. Her series of eight Ballad novels, beginning with “If I Ever Return, Pretty Peggy-O” (1990) and most recently adding “The Devil Amongst the Lawyers” (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s: 336 pp., $24.99) explores Appalachian history and folklore through an autobiographical lens (McCrumb’s family settled in the western North Carolina mountains in the 1790s). Each book is set at a different historical point in time, incorporating real murder cases and pinned structurally on the rhythms of real songs; the series features generations of recurring characters — the predominant, and most beloved by fans, being Nora Bonesteel, a “wise woman” gifted with second sight.

While McCrumb pens a new Ballad novel only every few years, those looking for a fix will be well-satisified by the novels of Vicki Lane, who dwells on a mountain farm in North Carolina. She first attracted attention in crime fiction circles with her series featuring Elizabeth Goodweather, a 50-ish proprietor of an herb and flower garden with an open heart and a curious mind about beliefs she may not necessarily share. Those traits serve her well as an amateur sleuth looking into crimes in Ridley Branch, where members of militia groups, back-to-the-landers, believers in extraterrestrials and fundamentalist Christians all dwell together, uncomfortably enough to throw up a murder every now and then.

The Day of Small Things

With “The Day of Small Things” (Dell: 414 pp., $7.99 paper), Lane moves away from the series and more in a direction first traveled by both McCrumb and Carolyn Wall, author of the excellent 2008 novel “Sweeping Up Glass” (Delta: 336 pp., $15 paper). Lane uses a traumatic birth scene to introduce us to a baby whose mother, in a fit of pique from too many babies birthed already, names her Least — and proceeds to treat her youngest child with disdain, neglect and, occasionally, abuse.

Full article HERE

Leave a Reply


8 − 2 =

↑ Back to top

This collection is copyright ©2006-2014 by Dave Tabler. All visuals are used in accordance with the Fair Use Law (Per Title 17—United States Code—Section 107) and remain the property of copyright owners. Site Design by Amaru Interactive