A fairy-tale windfall blasts the lives of two brothers, determined to do whatever it takes to hold onto the money, in Scott's electrifying first novel.
On their way to visit their parents' graves in rural Ohio, Hank Mitchell and his brother Jacob, together with Jacob's no-account pal Lou, find a downed plane, a dead pilot, and four million dollars. After briefly considering turning the money over to the authorities, they decide to let Hank keep it for six months to see whether anybody comes looking for it--believing in their innocence that if nobody does, they'll be safe in spending it. But the very next day, when Hank and Jacob are back at the plane to make sure they haven't left any traces of their presence, they're forced to kill a witness to their discovery. When Lou finds out and begins to blackmail Hank for advances on his share of the loot, Hank's surprisingly resourceful wife Sarah comes up with a scheme to shut his mouth--a scheme that ends, inevitably, in more violence, as Hank keeps killing to protect his family's stake in the American dream, the secrets of his earlier murders, and his sense of himself as normal ``despite everything I've done that might make it seem otherwise.'' By the time the horrific plot has wound down, nine people have died, with more deaths (the Mitchell parents, seven victims in a Detroit kidnapping) hanging heavily over the story. Yet Smith infuses each new twist of violence with shocks of unexpected pity, as Hank, devastated by the killing, keeps drifting back to the rationale he and Sarah share: He had to do it, it wasn't his fault. An eerily flat confessional whose horror is only deepened by its flashes of tenderness.
Think of a backwater James M. Cain, or a contemporary midwestern Unforgiven--and don't think about getting any sleep tonight. (First printing of 75,000; film rights...?)