A fatal incident in a Kentucky coal mine triggers a layered and challenging probe.
When a wall in the Blue Gem Mine gives way, veteran miner Amos Blevins watches helplessly as Rob Crane is trapped by an onrush of water. Amos tries desperately to save his young co-worker, but Rob becomes one of nine casualties in the disaster. At a nearby hospital, former miner Will Murphy, now an Inspector for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, questions James Benedetto, a young miner Amos was able to save. The walls of the hospital are lined with plaques and framed newspaper articles commemorating past accidents, one of which caused the death of 25-year-old Jeff Murphy and left older brother Will with third-degree burns on 60 percent of his body. Working with Kentucky State Police Detective Gene Freeman, Will questions the rescue team, including honorable Amos, who’s tortured by his failure to save Rob—and, the reader learns, not entirely truthful in his answers. These interviews leave Will dissatisfied, and his unease is only deepened by encounters with the mine owners’ dismissive, evasive representatives. Amos’ internal struggle is set against Will’s initially measured investigation. Determination to learn the truth spawns a recklessness that nearly gets Will killed, but he perseveres through a tangle of deception.
The quiet authority of Harris’ prose and his singular knowledge of an esoteric subject make this a suspenseful and informative debut, despite some predictable plot elements.