Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Review of Hill Country by R Thomas Brown (Snubnose Press, 2012)

Gabe Hill is the white sheep of the family. Living in a small town north of San Antonio, he generally makes a nuisance of himself blocking the plans to expand development. He arrives home one night to find a mutilated corpse on the front porch and bizarre animal sacrifices in the woods behind his house. The next day goes from bad to worse when associates of his brother turn up demanding the money they claim his now dead brother owes them. Mike has always run with the wrong crowd, but it seems that shortly before he died he wanted to make amends. That involved secretly bequeathing hundreds of thousands of dollars to his brother. It was so secret that he failed to tell Gabe. And if Gabe can’t track it down then he’s going to pay the same price as his brother. To add to his woes, several parties are looking for stash, and they all expect Gabe to make them rich. The only condition Gabe has set himself is that he’s not going to run and hide.

I love these kind of books - noir capers. The material is dark and the pace relentless. Brown does an admirable job of spinning out a fast twisting yarn in taut prose shorn of all flab. Whilst Gabe remains a constant, there is an endless procession of characters, some of whom last barely a couple of pages before they’re dispatched. It takes a keen eye to keep up and I don’t mind admitting I had to skip back a few pages on occasion to remind myself who was who and how they were connected into the story. This probably says more about me - and reading when very tired - than Brown, who manages to keep the swirl of interconnected storylines all pulling in the right direction. It is fair to say, however, that the storytelling does sacrifice in-depth characterisation and contextualisation for pace and action, but Brown generally provides enough that the essence of the principle characters is evident. At times the shearing is a little too brutal and a little more fleshing out would have been useful, but that might have worked to make the text a little uneven in places. Regardless, Hill Country rattles along at an electric, entertaining pace and I enjoyed the ride. The thread and resolution with Abby was particularly nicely done.

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