Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Shifty's Boys by Chris Offutt

First Line: At age eight, Albin decided to be a race-car driver when he grew up.
When the body of local heroin dealer Barney Kissick is found, the police mark his death as an occupational hazard and refuse to investigate. Barney's mother, Shifty, goes to someone she thinks she can trust in order to learn the truth about the death of her boy: Mick Hardin. Mick is an Army CID officer home on leave after an IED attack. He should be rehabbing his leg, weaning himself off painkillers, signing divorce papers, and staying out of the way of his sister's reelection campaign for sheriff. Instead, Mick tells Shifty he'll take a look. 

That look shows that there's more to the killing than it seems, so Mick keeps looking. And starts getting shot at himself.


After reading Chris Offutt's first Mick Hardin book, The Killing Hills, I looked forward to this second book, Shifty's Boys. Offutt has a way with language, setting, and characterization that I find impossible to resist.

Offutt's keen photographer's eye gives readers descriptive "snapshot" phrases that put them right into the Kentucky hills along with Mick Hardin and the rest of the characters. Readers see the flash of cardinals' wings and hear the breeze through the leaves of the trees. In fact, you could say that the setting is just as much a character in Shifty's Boys as the two-legged ones. The dialogue, too, makes me feel right at home, and comments such as "Them Ryans are so stuck up they'd drown in a hard rain" make me smile and think of my grandparents.

There's a bit of a Jack Reacher feeling to this book, as there was in The Killing Hills, and the plot often takes a backseat to the setting and the characters, but with the story's steady pace, I didn't mind a bit.  
I felt at home with the characters. After all, how can I turn my nose up at Mick who's let Roscoe the "house snake" live under his cabin's porch for ten years when I spent a summer sharing a poolside umbrella with a black widow spider? (Mick would probably think I was the strange one.) There are characters to love in Shifty's Boys. For example, Mick's sister, Linda, the sheriff who's up for reelection. She's known (and liked and respected) in the area for arresting her own brother. There's Jacky Turner, a genuine Mr. Fix-It with a penchant for inventing things "for the good of mankind." I also liked Albin the cab driver and was sorry to see him disappear once Mick's truck was repaired.

I even found a place that I wish I could visit: the "Coffee Tree, a bookstore that sold sandwiches and yarn." I figure my patronage alone would keep that place open. Chris Offutt's Mick Hardin books are centered around some of the real-life ugliness in a hard-hit part of Kentucky, but they're not just about the bad. Through reading his stories, readers also see the natural beauty of the landscape and the humor, heart, and resourcefulness of its people. Book three, here I come.

Shifty's Boys by Chris Offutt
eISBN: 9780802159991
Grove Atlantic © 2022
eBook, 272 pages
Noir, #2 Mick Hardin mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from Amazon.


  1. I'm very glad this worked for you, Cathy. I do like books where the setting is as important as the characters are. And it sounds as though the network of relationships sounds interesting, too. Oh, and if you're ever at the Coffee Tree and notice someone familiar, it may be me...

  2. I like the sound of Mick Hardin, and if these books have a Jack Reacher feel to them I'm very okay with that. ;D


  3. i am definitely in on this book. Liked The Killing Hills, Mick and Linda and the environment and some old and young codgers, But where is The Coffee Tree? Is there one in New York or do I have to go to Kentucky?


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