Plot/Idea: Despite taking place over a relatively short period of time, the novel’s charged atmosphere is immersive and brings 1960s Civil Rights era Arkansas to vivid life. The crime is gripping, the subplots intense, and the pace lively.
Prose: Holland writes skilled dialogue that flows effortlessly, gradually building tension and drawing readers into the setting through nuanced character interactions and intriguing events.
Originality: This is a riveting portrait of Arkansas in the ‘60s, with subtle historical overtones and a compelling crime set up.
Character/Execution: The first-person narrator—police chief Elmore—is engaging, and Holland refines the story through his eyes, piece by piece, until the subplots come together in a satisfying, though shocking, ending.
Date Submitted: May 13, 2023
Big Ray thinks otherwise, and the well-crafted, sharply penned procedural that follows turns on shoe-leather police work and clever clues, one crucial one spotted by his wife, Ella Mae, who stands as just one of the series’ many marvelous creations. Holland’s depiction of Arkansas life and thinking during the Civil Rights era is nuanced, complex, and occasionally scathing. A striking subplot involves a Black preacher registering voters in Locust County, Split Tree’s home, and Holland’s never shy about racism, domestic abuse, and other sins. “Would that be such a bad thing?” he snaps, about the possibility of the killer avenging a good ol’ boy’s attack on that sex worker.
The pace is mostly brisk, though Holland offers illuminating detours into Split Tree life, such as a church service or amusing chats between Big Ray and his ace supporting cast, sometimes about the state of the world, which the characters don’t yet realize is precarious. (Ella Mae is convinced President Kennedy will win re-election and keep the country out of war.) Local color, vivid language, and an as-told-to conversational style keep the pages turning just as much as the grabber of a crime story, which builds to a satisfying tragic conclusion.
Takeaway: Dazzling, voice-driven novel of small-town crime in 1963 Arkansas.
Comparable Titles: James Lee Burke‘s Dave Robicheaux series, Allen Eskens’s Nothing More Dangerous.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A