Hill Country by R Thomas Brown

Hill“I had some unfinished business with your brother.”
– Mr. Greenstreet

Gabe Hill is hearing that a lot lately. Seems his estranged brother, Mike, had gotten involved with activities of a dubious nature, ones that ultimately lead to his untimely demise. Since Gabe hadn’t seen his brother in nearly twenty years, as sad as it sounds Mike’s death may not have even even registered on Gabe’s radar under normal circumstances.

Of course, it’s not exactly normal circumstances to come home one evening and find a brutally murdered and mutilated corpse on your doorstep. Bizarre animal sacrifices and desecration in the woods behind your house? Also not normal. Being beaten in your own kitchen by an armed home invader demanding you turnover something you don’t have? Well, not normal for Gabe anyway. More enjoyable, though certainly not normal, Gabe’s home invasion beating is followed by a home invasion seduction by a beautiful and mysterious woman he’s never seen before in his life. Gabe has officially entered the WTF Zone.

Now Gabe has two options; get out of Dodge while he can and wait for things to settle down, or dig in and try to get to the bottom of what it is everyone’s looking for and how his brother was involved. He knows running is the right thing to do. There’s simply too much going on that he has absolutely no clue about, and too many people who desperately want something he’s unable to give them and who seem perfectly willing to do whatever it takes to get what they’re after. Running is a no-brainer. So of course Mike digs in.

And away we go.

Hill Country is the kind of book that words like stark, lean, and gritty were invented for. Author R. Thomas Brown has taken would could have been a traditional mystery and elevated it several levels by dropping it down into the hill country of Texas. And though Gabe’s search for answers does take him down into San Antonio, it’s that rural, hill country sensibility of Gabe and his main adversaries that really gives Hill Country its moral center. Swirling around that center is a cast of characters that are so well written you can hear the twang in their colloquialisms and see the dirt under their fingernails. Likewise, the setting’s so vividly described you can smell the smoked brisket and taste the cold ZiegenBock. These are real people with real problems, each struggling the best way they know how to make it through to the other side of a seriously messed up situation.

Part of that realism, and fair warning, is that the folks in Hill Country have a special affinity for the word ‘fuck’ and all its lovely variations. Gabe in particular is prone to bust out the phrase, “Fuck a _____” when frustrated or under pressure, and there are in fact no fewer than twenty different variations of that phrase used. Yeah, I actually counted, because seeing what colorful phrase Gabe would come up with next was seriously entertaining. (For the record, my favorites were kinkajou, billy goat running, and hammerhead.)

Obviously a deliberate and strategic decision on Brown’s part to incorporate the phrase into Gabe’s personality, it served both as levity as well as a reminder that despite his intelligence – he does have a Ph.D. – and world of options open to him, Gabe was, is, and always will be a Hill Country boy at heart. And that’s not a bad thing.

Hill Country is available from Snubnose Press.

R Thomas Brown writes about damaged people and their struggle to deal with the chaos life has tossed their way. Whether it be a discovered murder, the barrel of gun, a bat to the head or a mysterious voice only they can hear, it’s the reaction and attempt to make sense of the new reality that Brown likes to explore. In addition to Hill Country, was just published by Snubnose Press, Brown is also the author of Merciless Pact and the collections Mayhem and Ghost Stories. You can catch up with R Thomas Brown at his blog, Criminal Thoughts and on Twitter.

And be sure to read Thomas’s guest post, “Reaching ‘The End,’ Then Not.”

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  • Writerly Advice | Chad Rohrbacher

    April 12, 2012 - 11:33 am

    […] been reading R. Thomas Brown’s Hill Country lately. The book came highly recommended. It has one of the best openings I have read in a long, long time. The characters are stark, sharp […]

  • Paul Brazill

    March 2, 2012 - 1:59 pm

    Spot on. I finished it last night and that review hit the nail on the head!

  • sabrina ogden

    March 2, 2012 - 12:53 pm

    Love this review, Elizabeth. “WTF Zone.” I have it on deck to read and I’m Looking forward to it.

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