The Horror Honeys: Hardcover Honey's Haunted Bookclub ~ "A Swollen Red Sun"

Hardcover Honey's Haunted Bookclub ~ "A Swollen Red Sun"

A Hardcover Honey Book of the Week Review by Jocelyn

A Swollen Red Sun – Matthew McBride 

Happy New Year, readers! One of my resolutions (as is true every year) is to read more – and my year is off to a bang with this week’s read – A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride. As an STL native who now lives in KC, I have told you before about how partial I am to Missouri stories, even though they are usually dirty backwoods tales that don’t exactly portray my state in the best light. This book is no exception. Taking place in Gasconade County, the “meth capital of the world” (yay?), A Swollen Red Sun is a quick and intense read that you won’t want to put down.

The primary focus of the book is a missing bunch of money (always a fun set-up) – straight-arrow Deputy Sheriff Dale Banks finds $52,000 hidden in a kitty-litter box in the trailer of notorious meth cook and all-around bad guy Jerry Dean Skaggs and promptly takes it. He has almost instant regret, but with three kids at home, one with special needs, he convinces himself that he can find a way to keep it. He doesn’t share his find with his sidekick, younger Deputy Bo Hastings, telling himself he is protecting Bo from the inevitable shitstorm he’s in for when Jerry Dean comes looking for his money. The town itself virtually writhes with losers – and high above it all on a remote mini-mountain called Goat Hill, “Reverend” Butch Pogue lives with his common-law wife, his slow son, and a slew of loyal dogs. He cooks the best shit in town, but dealing with him brings its own set of special challenges, which many don’t want to do (i.e. “I’ll be goddamned if I step one foot on that hill. I’d rather light my cock on fire”).

The plot itself is lean and there’s not a bunch of fat to divert from it – Banks feeling dread, Jerry Dean looking for his money – but they are surrounded by a colorful cast of characters who each have their own detailed backstories, each white-trashier then the last. And the language, oh the language.  Whatever complaints you may have about McBride’s story are washed away by his skillful descriptions – Jerry Dean cruises by on a boat and is described as “a man with a long oil slick of black hair and white skin and tattoos so bad you could tell they were bad from a distance.” When one character’s tragic childhood story is told, it’s hypnotically – “he wanted to believe it was a stump he’d hit, but her screams cut as sharp as any razor.” Very Elmore Leonard.

And speaking of Elmore Leonard, this book reminded me of nothing so much as Justified which I have been bingeing on lately – as with Justified, I sometimes had to flip back a page or two to figure out who was doing what to who, but I didn’t even mind, because the narrative was so detailed and lush. I mean, this is a book that features three independent characters named (I kid you not) “Arlene," “Raylene,” and “Darlene.” When Jerry Dean eventually does venture up Goat Hill, his story hits a crescendo involving ball gags, knives to the stomach, some vicious dogs, and a truck driving into a swollen river – McBride throws everything he’s got at his climax, and it really worked for me – with a Reservoir Dogs style stand-off and a twist or two at the end, I feel completely comfortable recommending this read to any fan of horror, noir, mystery or just an ass-kicking good time.

Hardcover Honey Verdict: 4 out of 5 knives in the gut for this twisty tale

A Swollen Read Sun is available for e-reader and in paperback