A man exits the interstate in coal country and enters a waking nightmare.
Federal auditor Darrick MacBrehon is en route from Tennessee to Washington, D.C., when someone attacks him at a Redbird, West Virginia, gas station. He wakes, bleeding, in a dark pit full of human remains. His assailant has stolen his phone, wallet, keys, and the medication he takes for ataxia—a disease that affects muscle control. Darrick manages to claw his way out and seeks refuge in a sweepstakes parlor staffed by Lourana Taylor. Per Lourana, Darrick wouldn’t have been the first to go missing in town: A scientist disappeared after testing the heavily polluted river, and Lourana’s daughter, Dreama, vanished while working for Kavanagh Coal and Limestone. The all-powerful Kavanaghs are likely to blame, but since they essentially own Redbird, calling the police is pointless. Regardless, Darrick insists on investigating, so Lourana invites him to stay, hoping he’ll also find Dreama. When Darrick’s would-be murderer tries again, Darrick unleashes newfound psychic abilities and kills him. Discovery of the corpse coupled with zombie rumors inspired by glimpses of a shambling Darrick spark a panicked manhunt. Evocative, intelligent prose conjures an anxious mood and strong sense of place while spotlighting the societal and environmental devastation wrought by the coal mining industry. Regrettably, the story collapses under its own weight after Nieman (Blood Clay, 2011, etc.) incorporates elements of Celtic lore and gothic monster myth. Darrick and Lourana are subtly shaded characters with rich backstories, but their burgeoning romance lacks heat.
What starts as a supernatural-tinged small-town mystery devolves into cheesy B-movie horror.