Failure analyst Owen Allison returns to his native West Virginia, where his mother faces cancer and construction dumping threatens a family hollow. Owen's Aunt Lizzie, shotgun in hand, vows to stop the dump trucks. A trucker is killed and Aunt Lizzie swears she pulled the trigger. But Owen thinks she's hiding something. He sets out to find the truth, putting himself in the crosshairs of a deadly conspiracy, as his mother undergoes her own ordeal.
There were a lot of things I liked about this book:
1. I didn't know anything about the coal industry from that part of the country (or any part of the country, for that matter). I actually learned quite a bit.
2. Billheimer created a whole bunch of interesting characters: Owen, Lizzie (Owen's aunt and owner and administrator of a local hospice), Willis Grant (CEO of the company that owned the hospital), Judith (a lawyer, and Owen's ex-wife), Sister Mary (a nun at the hospital who has a history with Owen), Ruth (Owen's mom), Vern Embry (hospital accountant), Sheriff Thad Reader, Letch Valence (resident bad-guy), Guy Schamp (long-time lawyer and friend of Lizzie), Dusty Rhodes (local politician), and Maggie (an elderly patient on hospice who followed the comings and goings of the coal trucks for Owen). And there were more. I felt a connection to every single on of them, one way or the other.
3. There is tons of small-town, backwoods humor that had me laughing out loud. A couple of examples to whet your appetite for the book -
Willis Grant, talking to Vern Embry about overcharging the patients: "Oh, it'll work. It'll work. Slicker than snot on a doornob...she's got about as much chance as a blind pole-vaulter on a muddy track."
After Dusty Rhodes wins the election in a landslide, Guy Schamp, the old attorney, knocks on Owen's door and with a bottle of wine in his hand says: "It's a flinty little Merlot with a nice ironic aftertaste."
Guy Schamp telling Owen about a sheriff's race in the area sometime in the past: "Then his opponent came up with a Polaroid of Caughlin having sexual congress with a pig...Looked like Caughlin had about as much chance as a celluloid print of The Ten Commandments at the Hell Multiplex."
All I can say is that I guess you had to be there. The lines are very humorous in their proper context. But regardless of whether or not you find it funny, it's a good story and definitely made me want to read more of John's books in the Owen Allison series. And I know that Recycle Books is carrying not only Dismal Mountain in the store, but also has 2 others - #1 and #2 - Contrary Blues and Highway Robbery. But you do NOT have to read 1 and 2 in order to enjoy 3.
REALLY EXCITING NEWS: I just learned that Vanessa Diffenbaugh, who wrote The Language of Flowers, one of my top 12 ALL-TIME, is coming out with another book. It's called We Never Asked For Wings, and it will be published on August 18. I CANNOT WAIT! (I know I'm setting myself up for disappointment. How can it be anywhere near as good as Flowers?)