Saturday, January 01, 2011

The Contrary Blues by John Billheimer

Title: The Contrary Blues
Author: John Billheimer
ISBN: 9781891852251
Publisher: Quarrier Press, 2002
Paperback, 278 pages
Genre: Amateur Sleuth, #1 Owen Allison mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Alibris.

First Line: "I didn't reckon on no killing."

When National Department of Transportation investigator Owen Allison goes to Contrary, West Virginia, to complete an unfinished audit, he finds that an extra zero on a federal grant application has given the small, struggling mining town the extra funds it needs to keep vital services in place.

Everyone in town government doesn't consider keeping the money and using it for good to be fraud or cheating. In fact, the only person who seems to be unhappy with the current situation is a disabled citizen, Hatfield McCoy, who keeps firing off hate mail to Washington, D.C. about the town's bus service. When McCoy turns up dead, everyone's favorite suspect seems to be Allison, and he knows he has to work fast to clear his name. There's more in Contrary that's not adding up than just that extra zero.

I loved the quiet humor in this book, the delightful duplicity of many of the characters, and the twisty plot that resembles the switchbacks on a narrow mountain road. However, The Contrary Blues isn't just about cornpone humor and corrupt government officials. There are some strong subplots, such as the one concerning a coal miner with black lung who's desperately trying to keep his son above ground and away from mining. Billheimer's humor will entertain you, his plot will give your brain cells a workout, and your heart will be touched.

I've set a goal for myself to read mysteries set in each of the fifty states, and this is what led me to John Billheimer and The Contrary Blues of West Virginia. I'm glad I turned down this road because I've just found another excellent mystery series with which to spend some quality time.


  1. Cathy - This sounds like a fine read! Thanks for sharing it. I happen to really like mysteries that give the reader a strong sense of place, and that's sure one of them.

  2. Margot-- I'm really looking forward to reading more of his books.


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