An accomplished first novel about life and murder in a small Texas town.
Back in the summer of 1964, life is simpler, though probably no less fraught with evil. In Lamar County, Texas, Ned Parker’s the law. He’s a bit long in the tooth but still has that don’t-tread-on-me look that county reprobates have learned to take seriously. And then there’s Top, the constable’s adoring and well-loved 10-year-old grandson. Through them, in alternating chapters, Wortham tells a story of grace under pressure, of what happens when a deranged and vicious predator decides that they’re his promised prey. Local news sources tab him “The Skinner,” and the label is chillingly apt. He starts with small animals, then proceeds to small human beings—mutilated, murdered, their corpses gruesomely displayed as trophies, an idiosyncratic array doubly intimidating in its lack of pattern. Lamar County cowers. Constable Ned is convinced that a vendetta is involved, and though the why of it remains murky, he can no longer doubt its intent. Something noxious is heading for the Parkers. It arrives with breathtaking suddenness, leading to a fast and furious climax, written to the hilt, harrowing in its unpredictability.
Not just scary but funny too, as Wortham nails time and place in a sure-handed, captivating way. There’s a lot of good stuff in this unpretentious gem. Don’t miss it.