Bad things are astir on the banks of the Big Muddy, hallmark territory for homeboy Iles (Mississippi Blood, 2017, etc.).
“Buck’s passing seems a natural place to begin this story, because that’s the way these things generally start.” Yep. This particular bit of mischief starts when a Scoutmaster, surrogate father, and all-around good guy gets his head bashed in and his body dumped into the Mississippi. And why? That’s the tangled tale that Iles weaves in this overlong but engaging yarn. Thanks to the back-room dealing of a bunch called the Poker Club, the little river-bluff city of Bienville has brought a Chinese paper pulp mill to town and, with it, a new interstate connection and a billion dollars—which, a perp growls, is a billion dollars “in Mississippi. That’s like ten billion in the real world.” But stalwart journalist Marshall McEwan—that’s McEwan, not McLuhan—is on the case, back in town after attaining fame in the big city, to which he’d escaped from the shadow of his journalist hero father, now a moribund alcoholic but with plenty of fire left. Marshall’s old pals and neighbors have been up to no good; the most powerful of them are in the club, including an old girlfriend named Jet, who is quick to unveil her tucked-away parts to Marshall and whose love affairs in the small town are the makings of a positively Faulknerian epic. Iles’ story is more workaday than all that and often by the numbers: The bad guys are really bad, the molls inviting (“she steals her kiss, a quick, urgent probing of the tongue that makes clear she wants more"), the politicians spectacularly corrupt, the cluelessly cuckolded—well, clueless and cuckolded, though not without resources for revenge. As Marshall teases out the story of murder most foul, other bodies litter the stage—fortunately not his, which, the club members make it plain, is very much an option. In the end, everyone gets just deserts, though with a few postmodernly ironic twists.
Formulaic but fun.