Wednesday, January 04, 2023

The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt

First Line: The old man walked the hill with a long stick, pushing aside mayapple and horseweed, seeking ginseng.
Combat veteran and Army CID agent Mick Hardin is home on leave in the Kentucky hills to be with his pregnant wife, but some news has caused a strain in their marriage. Mick's sister Linda is the newly elected sheriff and is in charge of her first murder investigation. But when local movers and shakers want to take the investigation out of her hands and put it in someone else's, she turns to her brother for help.
With his experience and knowledge of the area, Mick is perfect for clandestine fact-gathering. While he avoids calls from his commanding officer, Mick delves into the dangerous rivalries lurking beneath the surface of his fiercely private hometown. And in the back of his mind, he knows he can't keep on avoiding his wife.
Mick knows the name of the game is betrayal, both on a very personal level and between the clans that live deep within the hills and hollers of the place he calls home-- and he is all too aware of how quickly betrayal can turn into violence.
The booksellers at my favorite indie bookstore are responsible for making me notice Chris Offutt's The Killing Hills, and I'm glad I paid attention. Offutt's book made such an impression on me that I can't wait to read more of Mick Hardin's adventures.
The setting in the Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky is pitch-perfect with its deep woods, steep-sided trails, and plenty of places to hide. The residents of those hills and hollers are also vividly drawn, with their clannish affiliations and long memories. They find any way they can to survive, and the choices can be on the wrong side of the law. Life is hard there. So much so that it's the only area in the United States in which the life span is shorter than it was twenty years ago. 
The colloquial dialogue with its oftentimes humorous turns of phrase made me feel right at home, although if you're like my friend in Minnesota you may not cotton to the southernness of the language (she says with tongue in cheek). Don't worry, though. Offutt doesn't layer on that southern talk with a trowel, so you shouldn't be a bit confused.

Mick is definitely the star of the show, and I loved following him around as he investigated the murder. His knowledge of the people and the area are so profound that, once he knew the identity of the dead woman, he knew which people to question and which ones to watch. His success in dealing with these clannish people is due in equal parts to skill, familiarity, and magic. Watching him avoid danger in the woods by using simple tricks like knowing which bird calls means all's well is a joy and put me right beside him on the page.
Setting, dialogue, characters, mystery... the icing on the cake was the compassionate, intelligent way everything was wrapped up, from the solution to the murder to the strain between Hardin and his wife. I definitely need to read more of Chris Offutt's writing.

The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt
eISBN: 9780802158420
Grove Atlantic © 2021
eBook, 225 pages
Noir, #1 Mick Hardin mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


  1. Sounds like a good one. I like the descriptions of nature and birdlife, especially knowledge of what various calls mean. I haven't read a book set in Kentucky yet.

    1. I've been in Kentucky several times. My ancestors lived there before moving on up to Illinois.

  2. I do like the Kentucky setting for this one, Cathy. And one of the other things that strikes me is the believable way that Mick gets involved in the case. Sometimes it's a struggle to give a protagonist who's not a police offer a credible reason to investigate. I can see why you enjoyed this one so well.

    1. I've already got my eye on his next Mick Hardin book.

  3. I haven't read this author, but I do love that Appalachian mountain setting!

  4. Thank you for reminding me about this author! I read this book last year and enjoyed it just as much. So I'm off to see if my library has the 2nd Mick Hardin book yet...

  5. I like the setting and this one sounds like a winner to me.


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