This collection of stories set in southern Indiana is a powerful book that gets to the heart of the human condition. Similar to the classics of American literature – think Steinbeck or Dreiser – it focuses on the lives of people where victory is simply to survive. Though this is a compilation of separate stories, a common setting, time frame and recurring characters combine to create a over-arching narrative.
The collection opens with three tales of the Hill clan, a ruthless group who demand loyalty from family, and attack those who oppose them. Drug dealing and less savory activities are common activities, and doing your bit and following orders are the rules for younger men coming up in the clan. This trio of stories is hard and pushes hope to the edges, but the drive to survive is strong, even among the young.
In other stories we meet people who live mostly alone, away from the clan and cities. These people pursue simple lives, but are drawn into problems for various reasons. Greed consumes a wife while revenge eats up her husband. Gambling invades the promising life of one man, but possible redemption comes from an unlikely source. The horrors of war tear at the soul of another character, leaving little hope for healing.
In addition to criminals and loners, there are also two law enforcement characters who make appearances. A detective who longs for the big score, but often finds himself in over his head, and a ‘squirrel cop’ who is tied to his community, but struggles with what surrounds him, and how the sickness of the area creeps even into his own life.
Crimes in Southern Indiana is a must-read for anyone who finds truth in the effect crime has on victims, perpetrators and those who simply live near it. It contains a whole spectrum of human emotion – frailty, corruption and hope – within the tales of damaged people looking to survive. Yet another strong collection of short crime fiction in one book, it’s available in the UK in paperback with a hardcover release in January.
CFL Rating: 5 stars