I’ve a special fondness for mystery series set in the Appalachian Mountains, even though there aren’t a lot of good ones and a lot of not so great ones. Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballads series had some memorable outings, particularly among the later novels, and one which was outstanding, Ghost Riders.
I stumbled upon Philip DePoy’s series in a used bookstore called The Green Hand (which was of course named after the Stephen King novel so named) and read all six of them in order (save for the first volume), which was a great delight. (Finding a hardcover edition of the first novel was a difficult quest indeed.) So let me discuss the first novel without going into any too detailed a manner. I was originally going to review the entire series but that would involve divulging too much of the story so I decided not to do that.
Fever Devilin is a retired anthropology professor now living back in the Georgia region of the southern Appalachians. However, his arrival is less than auspicious when he finds a body on the porch of his house — a half brother he didn’t even know existed.
What secrets there are about the brother, Fever, and their family are going unanswered, as anyone in the local area will remain quiet unless Fever can figure out what it is in his family history that no one will talk about. And given his messy family, to be precise an adulterous mother whose fate is unknown and father whose identity was never known, only knowing those secrets will help him in knowing who murdered his half-brother.
It’ll take another murder, much more brutal this time, for Devilin to realize his beloved community holds dark secrets, sacred and profane, that someone is willing to kill in order to keep them.
OK, a good mystery needs a number of things — a compelling sympathetic narrator (and I prefer first person singular, which we have here), secondary characters that round out the cast, so to speak, a well-crated representation of the setting, and, of course, superb story lines. All of these are here in one of the best mystery series I’ve had the pleasure to read.
DePoy has a firm and deft manner of telling his story that keeps it from becoming the hackneyed tale that many writers setting their mysteries in the southern Appalachians end up telling. Certainly I was not disappointed at the time it took the read all six books released so far. Indeed I’ll likely read them again at some point. And I’m eagerly awaiting the next novel!
(St. Martin’s, 2003)