Gabe Hill is a bit of a deadbeat with a PhD, a foul mouth and a lot of time on his hands, living in a small town in the Texas Hills. One night he comes home to find the paedophile he argued with earlier in the night dead on his doorstep. Suffice to say, it’s not the first corpse he’ll have to deal with before the story is over.
At the same time, butchered animals start appearing in the woods around his house, just like they did a number of years ago when a suspected serial killer was on the loose in the area.
Then a man named Tyler appears in his life. Tyler’s a backwoods psychopath with a talent for separating people from their money, forcibly or otherwise. He was also involved with Gabe’s estranged junkie brother, Mike, who died many years before and whose passing has left Gabe severely conflicted.
Tyler’s got the idea Gabe has money of his, specifically funds derived from a drug trafficking business masquerading as a religious cult which Tyler and Mike were involved in before the brother’s death.
Throw in a caste of other low lives and a women, Abby, who may or may not have been Mike’s girlfriend, and Gabe is not only running for his life, but having to deal with a lot of unresolved issues relating to his brother’s death.
Like a good heist caper or a juicy blackmail, tales of money, betrayal, lust and murder set in the underbelly of rural small time life are a major thematic strand of crime fiction, and one that as far as this reviewer is concerned, keeps on giving.
So it is with Hill Country. Brown delivers a fast moving, story with plenty of twists and turns. Indeed, it sometimes feels as though slightly too much was going on with too many characters coming in and out of the proceedings. You wonder whether Thomas can keep up with his own plot. He does and the result is a gritty, satisfying read.
One of the major strengths of Hill Country is Brown’s grasp of characterisation. All the characters are well drawn, particularly Tyler who is a marvellously malevolent individual. Added to this is his fluent writing style. He has a nice turn of phrase that’s going to serve him well in future books.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars