The Virginia author of such highly praised mainstream fiction as A Walk to the River and Godfires may have another winner in this Deliverance-like tale of a hunting expedition that has lethal consequences, a partial sequel to his very successful 1998 thriller Tidewater Blood.
Mild-mannered Richmond attorney Walter “Raff” Frampton, the narrator, is one of the two unlikeliest members of the grouse-hunting trip to the nearby West Virginia hills organized by Walter’s old friend, army vet and ardent outdoorsman Drake Wingo. The other is Drake’s casual acquaintance Wendell Ripley, unknown to both Frampton and his other old friend, Cliff Dickens, who shoots Ripley (with whom he's been “paired”) to death in what must surely be a grotesque accident. But investigating Sheriff Sawyers uncovers evidence that contradicts Cliff's account of what happened. As a result, Cliff is soon extradited, charged with premeditated murder—and badly in need of Walter Frampton’s services. Walter’s investigations lead him to a Shaker-like commune, The Watchers (of which Ripley was a member), thence into the heart of Richmond’s gay community, the known habitat of Ripley’s son Jeremiah (who may or may not be dead—and, strangely enough, was formerly employed at Drake Wingo’s sporting goods store). Furthermore, Cliff, an artistic type who visibly lacks female company, did raise numerous eyebrows with that notorious exhibit of homoerotic photography (though he doesn't seem to be gay). It’s all fairly hokey, but Hoffman builds his narrative quite skillfully, juxtaposing Walter’s little shocks of discovery with telling emphases on the complex lifelong bonding that complicates the interrelationships of that fateful grouse hunt’s three survivors. And he manages a smashing end, precipitated by a very revealing daytrip to Fort Lauderdale and climaxing with a dramatic recapitulation of the hunt, in which Walter risks his life and gets his (unspoken) answers.
Tense, filled with sharp characterizations, and beautifully worked out (especially in its explanations of said characters’ credibly mixed motives).