Hoffman’s latest excursion into the backwoods of Appalachia (Blood and Guile, 2000, etc.) continues the adventures of Charley LeBlanc, black sheep of a First Family of Virginia.
Charley—Virginia gentry, Vietnam vet, jailbird, drifter—has bad luck with homecomings. The last time he returned to his family’s estate at Bellerive (Tidewater Blood, 1998), his father, mother, and brother were killed when the house blew up—and Charley nearly went to jail for it. This time, he leaves his adopted home state of Montana to visit girlfriend Blackie in Cliffside, West Virginia, where he and she find that Aunt Jessie Arbuckle, a mountain woman who raised chickens for most of her 87 years, is dead of mysterious causes. Not a soul on earth wanted Aunt Jessie dead, and she was as poor as a church mouse, so how did this happen? Charley starts digging and learns to his horror that the prime suspect is Esmeralda, a backwoods girl who grew up near the mines run by Charley’s family. Duncan St.George, scion of a rival mining family even richer than Charley’s, claims to have seen Esmeralda leaving Aunt Jessie’s house with a bundle in her hands the night before Jessie was found dead. Now Esmeralda, who has a long and mysterious family connection to Charley, is locked away in the state mental hospital in Huntington, and Charley is determined to prove her innocent. Together with tough-as-nails Blackie, he makes his way through the thickets of backwoods power—from the friendly, corrupt county courthouse to the palatial estate of the nefarious St. George family to the roadhouses and tumbledown shacks of the local good old boys who always know a thing or two—to track his prey with all the determination of a practiced coon hunter.
A bit heavy on the backwoods caricatures, but a good read all the same: fast, and as fresh and unvarnished as a newly whittled stick.