Thursday, October 3, 2013

Review of Pale Horses by Nate Southard (Snubnose Press, 2013)

Sheriff Hal Kendrick has a secret he’s hiding from his work colleagues – he’s been diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s.  Increasingly forgetful, everyday he struggles to get by, relying on bluff and prompts to perform his duties and a GPS to travel around.  Worse still, he can barely remember the name of his wife or his life history.  His wife wants him to retire before his illness is discovered.  Hal, however, is determined to try and leave the county in a better state than when he became sheriff, or at the least solve the murder of a young woman found in a field.  Colleen Lothridge has been beaten to death with a hammer.  Part-time deputy Danny Cole went to school with Colleen and is friends with her husband, Bobby.  He’s convinced he knows the identity of the killer, a former marine suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.  Since returning to Indiana, Korey Hunt has been drinking, blacking out, fighting his demons and anybody who rubs him up the wrong way, and attending therapy.  All he wants is to return to a normal life, not face a life in prison for a murder he says he didn’t commit.  Hal might be able to finish his career with a conviction, but it could be at the expense of rough justice.

Pale Horses is a country noir of the blackest kind, offset with strong bittersweet undertones.  The story charts the intersections of three principal characters over the course of a murder investigation: an aging sheriff with Alzheimer’s, an unbalanced deputy with a drug habit and a Christina Ricci obsession, and a former marine haunted by his time in Iraq and Afghanistan.  All three characters are very well drawn and developed as the story progresses.  In particular, Hal Kendrick is a wonderfully observed character, with Southard sympathetically charting his slow decline and increasing confusion.  There is a good sense of place and contextualisation concerning small town, rural America, and the plot is compelling, building to a violent but nicely done denouement.  In my view, it is ready made for a movie adaptation in the vein of Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone (it needs an indie treatment, not a Hollywood one).  Unsettling, uncompromising, dark and bittersweet, Pale Horses is a gripping read.

I've been lucky enough to read an ARC of Pale Horses and it should be published shortly.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting Rob, another Horror writer crossing over to crime. There is certainly a track record of sucess, Lansdale and Piccirilli come immediately to mind.