As I’m writing a book series that lingers around the hinterland of the crime genre myself, I’m always intrigued as to how other authors in a similar vein go about the business of setting up a series and keeping it fresh for the reader. The laconic and acerbic Shifty’s Boys by Chris Offutt, is the follow-up to last year’s The Killing Hills. Set in the author’s home turf of the remote Appalachian mountains of Kentucky, it follows the trials and tribulations of Mick Hardin, an army officer home on extended leave as he recovers from an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) attack.
When a local heroin dealer is found dead in town his mother, Shifty Kissick, enlists Mick to look into it. Obviously, things escalate, and Mick and his sister – the local sheriff trying to get re-elected – are in mortal danger.
That summary doesn’t really do justice to the mood of black humour that pervades Shifty’s Boys. Offutt brings a wonderfully engaging down-home earthiness to Mick’s character and his investigations, and does the same with his descriptions of the poverty and idiosyncrasies of the remote communities that form the backdrop for his tight plot. Mick is an everyman of sorts – albeit one with military training and a severe sense of self-deprecation – and he’s the key to the narrative here, the reader wants to spend time in his laid-back company.
There is a terrific sense of classic noir in Shifty’s Boys, updated to this modern rural location, Offutt skilfully balancing visceral description, tight dialogue and rattling action into a breakneck-paced, utterly enthralling total package. All of this is delivered in expertly spare, concise language, in a very tight 250 pages.
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