Friday, November 12, 2021

Review: The Killing Hills

The Killing Hills The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free copy of this from NetGalley for review.

“There’s murder in them thar hills!”

Mick Hardin is a combat veteran and investigator with the Army CID who has returned home on leave to find that his wife is pregnant and the baby may or may not be his. As he tries to cope with that he’s retreated to the cabin in the Kentucky hills where he was raised by his grandfather to do some serious drinking. His sister is the local sheriff and when a girl is found murdered in the woods, she asks Mick to help her find the killer. Looking into the crime means dealing with the dead woman’s angry relatives, other suspicious hill folk, political intrigue, an FBI agent, and some thugs sent to keep Mick from interfering with the local heroin distribution.

There’s two immediate and easy comparisons that spring to mind when discussing this one. The first is the excellent TV series Justified, and the second are the great Quinn novels by Ace Atkins. If you’re a fan of either or both of those then I think it’s safe to say that you’ll probably like this book.

However, while there are similarities in story and setting to those other works, Chris Offutt has carved out his own unique niche here. There’s a real sense of the place and people that comes up in various gritty details. For example, at one point Mick knows he’ll have to go up some steep muddy roads in an old pick-up so he haggles with a local mechanic to get an old scrap engine to use for weight in the back of his truck. (That brought back a memory from my own youth of how my dad had a couple of old tire inner tubes filled with sand to put the back of his truck for weight in the winner.)

Offutt also establishes a complex web of the kind of personal relationships you find in small towns where everybody has some kind of history or blood connection to everybody else. Generational grudges are held and judgements are made depending on your lineage. It’s also the kind of place where time seems to stand still in some ways, and the progress that does come just seems designed to screw over the locals.

It’s a solid crime story with a great rural vibe to it.

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Review: Falling

Falling Falling by T.J. Newman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This seems to exemplify the very concept of an ‘airport novel’, but there’s a couple of problems with that. First, who’d want to read this while they were actually on a plane? Second, it’s just not very good.

Captain Bill Hoffman is an airline pilot, a husband, a father, and all around good guy who is flying a plane full of people from LA to New York. Unfortunately, a terrorist has taken his family hostage, and now Bill faces a horrible choice. He either uses a poison gas canister to kill the passengers and then crash the plane, or his family will be killed.

That’s a pretty intriguing set-up, and the author, a former flight attendant, has a lot of detailed knowledge to keep the premise going for a while. Unfortunately, the whole thing collapses under the weight of bad plotting and paper thin characters.

There’s a couple of things that I just couldn’t get past. Like if Bill is supposed to crash the plane, why does he also have to gas the passengers? How many times do you have to kill these people? The reason is to introduce a subplot about the flight crew trying to find a way to save them while Bill plays cat & mouse with the terrorist from the locked cockpit. While that provides some of the more interesting details about planes and procedures, it also doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Another thing is that in a post 9/11 world, it pushes the suspension of disbelief far past the breaking point to think that the US government wouldn’t immediately shoot down an airliner with a compromised captain once the situation becomes known. There’s also a real humdinger of a fundamental flaw that will make you ask why the terrorists bother with the whole kidnapping scheme anyway, and the book’s only answer is some goobledy-gook of wanting Bill, as an average American, to have to make a choice.

Although some effort is made to give the terrorists some real world justifications as to why they’re so angry, the rest of the cast is pretty much standard issue good-people-who-stand-together-in-the-face-of-adversity, and I’m sorry but as somebody living in America in 2021, I know that’s just complete bullshit.

I was intrigued at the start, but the book lost me quickly, and after that I mainly read it just to heckle the stupidity.

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