Friday, November 13, 2020

Review: Cottonmouths

Cottonmouths Cottonmouths by Kelly J. Ford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

They say you can’t go home again, but that’s not true. However, when you do go back you may find something new there, like a meth lab.

Emily has dropped out of college and been forced to return to her former Arkansas hometown and live with her parents. Feeling like a failure and with student loan debt now hanging over her, Emily tries to find a decent job, but the best that she can do is working at a fast-food joint. She’s shocked to learn that her former best friend/secret crush, Jody, has also returned to town and now has a baby. Emily has never gotten over her romantic feelings for Jody, and she tries to reconnect with her even when it becomes clear that Jody is involved in something shady. Unable to resist her attraction to Jody even when she sees plenty of warning signs, Emily gets steadily more involved even as she tries to rationalize what’s happening.

This is a rural crime story that really gets the small-town character vibe right. You really feel Emily’s sense of being trapped with no money and no opportunities as well as her embarrassment at having to return home and dealing with people she’d thought she’d left behind. She resents her mother’s judgements even as she also hates feeling like she isn’t living up to her standards.

Emily’s also struggling in dealing with her sexuality because she realized she was infatuated with Jody long ago but by failing to come to terms with who she is she’s never been able to move on and get past that high school first-love thing. She’s at the point where she knows the truth about herself but can’t bear to admit it even if most of those around her already know. Jody is certainly aware of it, and the question is whether she cares for Emily or just uses her feelings to manipulate her.

Another interesting aspect here is how the crime part of the novel is handled. There’s a heart-breaking realism to it all in which running a meth lab isn’t a glamorous life of drug kingpins, stacks of cash, and wars with biker gangs or cartels. Instead there’s a kind of slow inevitable slide towards tragedy with a bunch of poor, desperate people feeling like they don’t have other options making a series of bad choices that keep leading them deeper into trouble.

Kelly Ford is one of the authors I learned about why attending Bouchercon last year when she was on a panel about modern noir, and I’d been meaning to read this for a while. The book lived up to what I was hoping for after hearing her talk about it a bit, and she’s written a bleak portrait of small-town despair and broken hearts.

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1 comment:

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