Mister Greuel never could abide chaos. Now “product” is missing, along with his best salesman, a “laker” named Fleece Skaggs. Such it is that sets a drug-dealing Kentucky enterprise unraveling in Gann’s (Our Napoleon in Rags, 2005, etc.) third novel.
The product is marijuana, albeit Mister (he insists upon the title) Greuel can provide crank, prescription drugs or suchlike to fit the customer’s needs. Fleece was the prime runner for Mister Greuel, who’s busy dying but thoroughly intent on finding the missing Fleece. James Cole Prather, always “swimming furiously in the wake of his brother’s life,” also wants to find Fleece, his half brother, but out of filial duty imposed by their prescription drug–addicted mother, Lyda. In this book, an ephemeral code of loyalty and duty is rigidly enforced by blood family or blood violence. In the first few chapters, Gann moves the setting from an abandoned Catholic seminary to a gospel church, Christ World Emergent, led by a former addict named Gil Ponder, and then to Lake Holloway and a community of edge-dwelling, hard-bitten ne’er-do-wells and sometime outlaws. In this mix there is Cole’s object of lust, Shady Beck, Audi-driving rich girl, ready to sit on Mister Greuel’s lap and partake of his marijuana. Gann peoples his tale with other riveting, memorable characters, including Arley Noe, “Blue Note” because of the illness-tinged skin color; professor Mule, an enforcer with a tool kit and a taste for mystery novels; and Nathan Crutchfield, marijuana farmer and sometime philosopher. The author has a gift for the right phrase and description. Unfolding with unflinching clarity and moral inevitability, this is a tale of love and loyalty, family and duty, naïveté and duplicity, played out on an amoral landscape of drugs and violence.
Hillbilly noir as literary fiction of the first order.