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In 1897, an aspiring politician is mysteriously murdered in the rural area of Alabama known as Mitcham Beat. His outraged friends -- —mostly poor cotton farmers -- form a secret society, Hell-at-the-Breech, to punish the townspeople they believe responsible. The hooded members wage a bloody year-long campaign of terror that culminates in a massacre where the innocent suffe In 1897, an aspiring politician is mysteriously murdered in the rural area of Alabama known as Mitcham Beat. His outraged friends -- —mostly poor cotton farmers -- form a secret society, Hell-at-the-Breech, to punish the townspeople they believe responsible. The hooded members wage a bloody year-long campaign of terror that culminates in a massacre where the innocent suffer alongside the guilty. Caught in the maelstrom of the Mitcham war are four people: the aging sheriff sympathetic to both sides; the widowed midwife who delivered nearly every member of Hell-at-the-Breech; a ruthless detective who wages his own war against the gang; and a young store clerk who harbors a terrible secret. Based on incidents that occurred a few miles from the author's childhood home, Hell at the Breech chronicles the events of dark days that led the people involved to discover their capacity for good, evil, or for both.


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In 1897, an aspiring politician is mysteriously murdered in the rural area of Alabama known as Mitcham Beat. His outraged friends -- —mostly poor cotton farmers -- form a secret society, Hell-at-the-Breech, to punish the townspeople they believe responsible. The hooded members wage a bloody year-long campaign of terror that culminates in a massacre where the innocent suffe In 1897, an aspiring politician is mysteriously murdered in the rural area of Alabama known as Mitcham Beat. His outraged friends -- —mostly poor cotton farmers -- form a secret society, Hell-at-the-Breech, to punish the townspeople they believe responsible. The hooded members wage a bloody year-long campaign of terror that culminates in a massacre where the innocent suffer alongside the guilty. Caught in the maelstrom of the Mitcham war are four people: the aging sheriff sympathetic to both sides; the widowed midwife who delivered nearly every member of Hell-at-the-Breech; a ruthless detective who wages his own war against the gang; and a young store clerk who harbors a terrible secret. Based on incidents that occurred a few miles from the author's childhood home, Hell at the Breech chronicles the events of dark days that led the people involved to discover their capacity for good, evil, or for both.

30 review for Hell at the Breech

  1. 4 out of 5

    PirateSteve

    The events within this story takes place about a 30 minute drive from where I sit today. A lot of my family originates from this area. Looking at Tom Franklin's bio informs me that he is also from this same county in Alabama. Historical Fiction The Mitcham War did happen. No doubt about that. Now Mr.Franklin may not be the sharpest tool in the shed but he ain't stupid either. There are some names within this book that have been changed. Not so much to protect the innocent but just so as not to i The events within this story takes place about a 30 minute drive from where I sit today. A lot of my family originates from this area. Looking at Tom Franklin's bio informs me that he is also from this same county in Alabama. Historical Fiction The Mitcham War did happen. No doubt about that. Now Mr.Franklin may not be the sharpest tool in the shed but he ain't stupid either. There are some names within this book that have been changed. Not so much to protect the innocent but just so as not to incriminate the family's. Ergo the historical fiction classification. It's safe for yall to read this book now and it's a good'un. I recommend it to anyone...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Keeten

    ”Tell you something, Bedsole.” he said. “Good sheriff has to know things, be they secret or not. Was a time back yonder in my ambitious years, when you was still chasing girls in pigtails, where I knew just about everything went on in my county, no matter how delicate, from the bowel movement of men to the ministerial cycles of women. A fly couldn’t light on a stack of horse shit I didn’t know about it. But then it happened I got older, as men will, and had to let some slack in my grip. You know ”Tell you something, Bedsole.” he said. “Good sheriff has to know things, be they secret or not. Was a time back yonder in my ambitious years, when you was still chasing girls in pigtails, where I knew just about everything went on in my county, no matter how delicate, from the bowel movement of men to the ministerial cycles of women. A fly couldn’t light on a stack of horse shit I didn’t know about it. But then it happened I got older, as men will, and had to let some slack in my grip. You know. Now the habits of flies are unknown to me and men shit and women bleed unattended. And so there’s two or three places I’ve let go too far. This here is one of ‘em.” “That’s a good little speech,” Bedsole said. He took a cigar from his own shirt pocket and put it in his lips. “What’s it mean?” “Means I’m fixing to go to the bottom of some things.” Sheriff Billy Waite is feeling every mile of his existence in 1897. By the force of his will and sometimes by the vigilante justice of his gun he has kept Clark County peaceful. He is respected. He is feared. He has started to drink too much. And while he drinks he spends more time thinking about his past and some of his indiscretions weigh heavy on his mind. ”His coat hung by the door with the badge pinned inside it, and now, for the first time in his career as a sheriff, he could feel the metal as an organ gone bad, liver mossy or kidneys hardened, heart flattened out and its rivers of blood damned off.” When Billy hears about a shooting, an ambush, it is no surprise that it has happened in Mitcham Beat. Now the men in Clark County are a tough bunch, but the men in Mitcham Beat might be up there with some of the toughest sons-a-bitches in the known world. Many of them were in the war so they crossed that line decades ago between being just tough and having killed a man. Whistling lead is music that guides their fingers to the triggers of their own ready weapons. How you treat them, they will respond in kind. Punch for a punch. Blast for a blast. Boot for a boot. ”Who killed Arch Bledsoe?” Billy knows he is not the man he once was, but he hopes he has enough coal left in the furnace to do what needs to be done. Tooch Bledsoe, cousin to Arch, has formed a gang of men who call themselves Hell at the Breech. The catalyst for this band of miscreants to form was the death of Arch, but it has just as much to do with the actions of McCorquodale. The split is between rural and town folks. McCorquodale holds a lot of paper on the rural people and of late he has gotten more aggressive about shoving people off their land; their little dab of red earth that they raised just enough cotton on to keep them in beans and bullets. You take everything away from people and they are bound to take exception. Some will fall into drink, embracing their misery with both arms wrapped tight around their own failure, but others will decide that they didn’t get a fair shake. They don’t go to the law because it is rigged to help those with money. Bullets aren’t cheap, but they are good shots, raised to shoot from a young age, and it will only take a couple to stop the black heart of that sombitch McCorquodale. All hell breaks loose. Billy is only beginning to investigate the murder of Bledsoe when this new murder has thrown his time table up in the trees. The town people want vengeance and they want it now. ”The fog along the ground resembled smoke, as if the world were smoldering in its heart.” His investigations lead him to the whore Annie. ”She sat in a caneback chair by the table, wearing a housedress, breaking snap beans into small pieces and dropping them into a pail between her feet. A pipe on the table. Behind her, against the wall, stood her short shotgun. He raised his eyebrow at her, but she kept breaking the beans. Her dress was spread at her knees over the pail, showing her white skin, blue veins. How old must she be now? Fifty? Her hair was blond as ever, though.” Billy feels something wiggle he hasn’t felt wiggle in a long time. Annie soon has him on the defensive. ”You come see me once,” she said. “As a customer.” “I don’t recollect that.” “Lord, just as green a rich town boy ever got lost in the woods. Come in here with your ding-dong about to bust out of your britches, you and your cousin Oscar both.” “I reckon every boy within ten miles has been here.” he said. “Only thing I care about today is if somebody come by last night.” This conversation, only lasts a few pages, but had me snorting; and well, maybe even giggling as Annie just kept making Billy more and more uncomfortable. Oh and by the way Billy remembers his youthful encounter with Annie in technicolor. Annie might be the most dangerous person in the whole county because she knows “the ins and outs” about everybody whether they be from Mitcham Beat or from Coffeyville. Mitcham Beat is beautiful. ”The land grew pretty to Waite’s eye: field beyond field beyond field for well-kept cotton, each tuff white as a senator’s eyebrow. Between the fields there were less level, unplantable space, lush deep wooded ravines with sprawling water oaks in the bottoms and hollows crowded with pine and other evergreens, limbs hung with Spanish moss, ivy, wisteria, and honeysuckle, creeks where cool water smooth the surfaces of wide white rocks. Locations perfect for whiskey-making. A farmer could tend his crops and, as he passed a hollow where he kept a still, climb to the bottom and check his mash.” Billy’s mind is never far from his next drink. I’ve read three Tom Franklin books and enjoyed them all, but this was my favorite. I thought the depth of characters that surround the brilliantly conveyed Billy Waite were just simply a pleasure to experience. I could smell the sweat of the horses, the face smacking stench of the unwashed, the taste of gunsmoke rising in the air, and the tang of old pennies as blood is spilled. The only thing that would have made it more perfect is if I’d had a jar of Alabama moonshine to burn my throat and grease my mind. If you read the paperback, the publisher included a coda that was not in the hardcover version. My good friend, a prince among thieves, a gun toting, Grade A, made in Alabama knight named Michael Sullivan lent me his copy so I could read the coda. The fascinating part about this short story is that you will get to see Billy Waite as a younger man, when he knew exactly where the sun set in the sky when a fly landed on a stack of horseshit. If you like historical fiction, with the flavor of the old west, this is a book not to be missed. If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visithttp://www.jeffreykeeten.com I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

  3. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    Western noir…despair-filled, hickory-smoked literature echoing the matter-of-fact cynicism of Cormac McCarthy, and the conspicuous immorality of Jim Thompson. That’s the best way I can think of to describe Tom Franklin’s impressive first novel. A surprisingly strong, surprisingly powerful maiden effort that clearly heralds the blooming genius of the talent that would go on to pen Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, one of my favorite novels of 2011. The man can seriously tell stories. But damn if th Western noir…despair-filled, hickory-smoked literature echoing the matter-of-fact cynicism of Cormac McCarthy, and the conspicuous immorality of Jim Thompson. That’s the best way I can think of to describe Tom Franklin’s impressive first novel. A surprisingly strong, surprisingly powerful maiden effort that clearly heralds the blooming genius of the talent that would go on to pen Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, one of my favorite novels of 2011. The man can seriously tell stories. But damn if this wasn't dark and dreary and depressing.It could really have used a few puppies. Oh…wait…I forgot, there were puppies, a whole litter of them, but they were put into a sack and drowned in the river during the first chapter…thanks for that, Tom. Do you think next time you can give the reader a few pages to get settled in before you throw that at us? Anyway, let’s continue. Sadly, I haven’t yet read Daniel Woodrell or Donald Ray Pollock (both are on my priority TBR list), but based on some stellar reviews from GR friends, I think this chews some of the same cud in terms of atmosphere and tone. And While Franklin’s prose is not McCarthyesque, in either its sparseness or its allergy to punctuaction, I was constantly reminded of two of Cormac’s novels while I read this. The hellish, unromantic depiction of the western life, and the casual, brutal, and graphic violence imaged on the page, reminded me of Blood Meridian. Additionally, the main character, Sheriff Billy Waite, kept conjuring images in my mind of Sheriff Tom Bell from No Country for Old Men, in both his world-weary discomfort with the violence around him, and his cynical view that more of the same in written into the future. Given that I loved both of those novels, these comparisons boded very well for my opinion of this work. PLOT SUMMARY: A fictionalized version of the real life Mitcham War that occurred in Clarke County, Alabama, in the late 1890’s, between the wealthy townsfolk of Grove Hill, and the poor farmers who worked the townfolk’s land. The trouble starts when a popular politician from among the farmers is mysteriously murdered on the eve of an election that would have dethroned a Grove Hill fat cat. The farmers, led by the villainous brother of the murder victim, form a secret society, the Hell-at-the-Breech Gang, to wage a year long campaign of terror against the residents of Grove Hill, who they believe responsible for the killing. Extortion, backed by crop burnings, brutal raids, and multiple murders leads to the townfolk fighting back just as viciously. All of this culminates in a massacre that leaves very few on either side alive. I know…not exactly a fluffy beach read. A large cast of characters populate the story, but the two primary POV belong to Sheriff Billy Waite, the aging, “decent” sheriff, whose sympathies run to both sides of the quarrel, and Mack Burke, a 15 year old boy, who harbors a dark secret central to the events of the story. THOUGHTS: A superior achievement, made all the more impressive because it was Franklin’s first full length work. That said, this is not without flaws. In his efforts to convey mood and emotion, I thought he occasionally flirted with melodrama. I found myself comparing passages to McCarthy’s efforts at evoking similar feelings, and deciding that McCarthy had been far more effective in constructing moments of power by saying less. Additionally, while I generally enjoyed the non-linear nature of the story, and the way Franklin deftly put the time-jumbled fragments together, I felt the frequent flashbacks and backstory regressions tended to stall the momentum a bit. Still, those are such minor quibbles in the context of what Franklin does so right in this work. Franklin create a sense of place that is so enveloping and so detailed that you exist along side his characters. You can taste the grit and dust in the back of their throats, and smell the blood, sweat and smoke wafting up from the bodies after a bullet exchange. His world is a scorched and infected with malice, and his people are callous and hard and without empathy. The setting is oppressive, nasty and uncompromising. There are no heroes, no silver linings and no endings modified by happy. And yet the word gorgeous springs to mind when I think about the story. The storytelling is gorgeous. The story is a grim, despair-filled sermon of cynicism and hopelessness…but the telling of it, is magic. Dawn crept up out of the trees, defining a bole, a burl, a leaf at a time the world he'd spent the night trying to comprehend. But what would daylight offer except the illusion of understanding? At least in darkness you were spared the pretending. Flawed magic? Maybe. Unpolished magic? I won’t argue with that. But magic, nonetheless. 4.0 stars. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    Tooch Bedsole Based on a true story, it tells the story of the rise and fall of a criminal syndicate in a small post-Civil War south Alabama community. The violence and people are disturbing. Franklin does a beautiful job with the details. Mitcham Beat Schoolhouse http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/... Tooch Bedsole Based on a true story, it tells the story of the rise and fall of a criminal syndicate in a small post-Civil War south Alabama community. The violence and people are disturbing. Franklin does a beautiful job with the details. Mitcham Beat Schoolhouse http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/...

  5. 5 out of 5

    Eh?Eh!

    When I was a young 'un, when everything was new and there was no bitter experience to cast a cynical shade over whatever was before me, I would read everything. If it had letters, I would read it. There's this exercise the teacher pulled out sometime in early elementary school and then later in late high school, a paragraph where you were supposed to count all the letter e's. In high school, I'd forgotten the trick of it and missed all the ones in the small words, the ones I'd skim over in my by When I was a young 'un, when everything was new and there was no bitter experience to cast a cynical shade over whatever was before me, I would read everything. If it had letters, I would read it. There's this exercise the teacher pulled out sometime in early elementary school and then later in late high school, a paragraph where you were supposed to count all the letter e's. In high school, I'd forgotten the trick of it and missed all the ones in the small words, the ones I'd skim over in my by-then jaded reading technique. I think that mechanical deterioration can describe my current weary and inept reading style now, skipping-stone-like. Man, I remember being 9 and taking home about 20 library books at a time, a mix of biography, science, and fiction. I wish I'd ranged wider before realizing there was such a thing as genre. FSF became the bear trap and I didn't know to chew my leg off to get away. I was caught for a couple decades. By the time it dawned on me that the reason why I probably wasn't enjoying what I was reading was because I wanted something meatier and real, I was lost. So I'm glad for this site and the way we all shovel through the pile for each other, pointing out this and that, books that I would never look at twice ("this one? But...there's no dragon on the cover"). I'd never know there existed such a thing as fiction with themes of and in the storytelling lilt of certain eastern mountain regions. Kinda specific and odd to me. But these kinds of books have been an ease to the agitation of my attention span. I'm uncomfortable with the thought that the miserable and hopeless lives of these folk have the opposite effect on me. I'm not sure why. Does this mean my compassion is also hardening? Do I like these because I'm not them, hah hah nyah nyah? I...hope not, I don't think that's so. I have no answer, even one fashioned in my favor. I think I'd been able to read those FSF books indiscriminately because I didn't notice quality of writing, just the escapism of the story in the sense that my thoughts were fully occupied to the exclusion of all other troubles. But a lot of these are badly written so that started popping me out of the lull. These, I dunno. Somehow reading about hard times, so hard I've never had and will likely never have them, works. The book? It's good. I think it's the author's first novel. It's based on real events, fictionalized. The eternal dispute between the haves and have-nots, family, loyalty, guilt, secrets, cycling violence, duty, pain, poverty. I liked how a seemingly passive character was revealed to have been a fulcrum of events, a shield. A sociopath and a psychopath. Hard times, and an ending that doesn't provide an easy happy wrap-up.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Perry

    Redneck Aristocrats, Good Ole Boys and Mean Sumbitches A Primal Splurge that Never Quite Sparked my Plugs This takes you to the late 1890s in L.A. (Lower Alabama), backwoods, 'bout 75 miles north o' my neck o' the woods, in a fictional story based on real life events. What you got here, what you got is one small-time alky sheriff, one borderline psychopathic vigilante, and one nouveau-riche redneck with daddy issues. Mr. Author, what he does is cook up a quasi-class conflict via a gang of hillbill Redneck Aristocrats, Good Ole Boys and Mean Sumbitches A Primal Splurge that Never Quite Sparked my Plugs This takes you to the late 1890s in L.A. (Lower Alabama), backwoods, 'bout 75 miles north o' my neck o' the woods, in a fictional story based on real life events. What you got here, what you got is one small-time alky sheriff, one borderline psychopathic vigilante, and one nouveau-riche redneck with daddy issues. Mr. Author, what he does is cook up a quasi-class conflict via a gang of hillbilly rubes who got sorta sore at the cityfolk from a town called Grove Hill who bound to be thinkin' they all walkin' in high cotton and what-not. Well now, when Mr. Author tosses into the boiling pot a teenage boy overflow'n with testosterone, seein' things he ought not a be seein', smellin' that honeysuckle in the air Faulkner wrote about, and fancyin' a bite of the proverbial forbidden fruit, what you come up with is a combustible potion just waitin for explodin. Morbid consequences soon ensue. Hell at the Breech is a well-written primal splurge, that lacks a little in character development and never fully sparked my plugs.

  7. 5 out of 5

    LeAnne: GeezerMom

    Bloody hell! Violent, violent, achingly poignant. I loved this outstanding work by Franklin but will not reread because of the - did I mention? - intense and (to me) over-the-top violence. If we're gone level things with the folks responsible for killing my cousin, we're gone have to level the whole goddamn town of Grove Hill,". And yep - Tooch Bedsole and his group of vigilantes basically kill nearly everybody around. Somebody did in fact kill Tooch's cousin, but (view spoiler)[ it was an accide Bloody hell! Violent, violent, achingly poignant. I loved this outstanding work by Franklin but will not reread because of the - did I mention? - intense and (to me) over-the-top violence. If we're gone level things with the folks responsible for killing my cousin, we're gone have to level the whole goddamn town of Grove Hill,". And yep - Tooch Bedsole and his group of vigilantes basically kill nearly everybody around. Somebody did in fact kill Tooch's cousin, but (view spoiler)[ it was an accidental shooting by a kid not used to handling a gun, let alone in the dark of night. He is too scared to admit it, and a conspiracy theory takes off. (hide spoiler)] . The irony was that the consequences of one death would manifest in semi regional slaughter. You would have thought somebody had shot some archduke and then erupted a world war - wait. That did happen! The author based this novel on real events that happened in the 1800s in an area close to his own home town, and while he made real history sound, well, real (not every author does well with the "based on true events" genre), there was such robust gun slinging and other forms of murder that the impact left me. By the time the 14th or 15th dude got gutted, I didn't know whether to yawn or roll my eyes. Too bad I didn't keep a body count. Quentin Tarantino might’ve easily gotten some ideas for D’jango Unchained from this - that’s how ridiculously bloody it was and why I docked it a whole star. I will say that this was especially good with the Audible narration - Pine's deep, gravelly voice was perfect. If you have a long road trip, turn on your Kindle-Audible app for this. Alabama cowboy-shoot-em-up with glorious depth and uncomfortable authenticity for the late 1800s rural Alabama. That this was his debut novel tells you how good Tom Franklin is. This author really is fantastic, and I LOVED his later Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter so much that I've read it at least twice. His The Tilted World was a little too sweet with some cartoonish characters. I compare the three of these books to the bears' belongings in Goldilocks. Hell at the Breech belongs to Papa Bear - way too rough. Tilted World was Mama Bear's - entirely too soft. But Crooked Letter? Baby Bear, it is just right! Goldilocks knew her stuff - go for Crooked Letter instead of this.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Cathrine ☯️

    3.5★ I knew I was in for it with an opening chapter titled A sack of puppies. I closed the book for a few moments then opened it back up and began to read. When Mackey is handed the sack and charged with taking care of the problems inside, his transition from boy-no-longer begins to intensify quickly. He’s about to be a catalyst for and get sucked into some nasty business where it's every man for himself, women and children fair game. Fabulous writing as expected with this story inspired by true ev 3.5★ I knew I was in for it with an opening chapter titled A sack of puppies. I closed the book for a few moments then opened it back up and began to read. When Mackey is handed the sack and charged with taking care of the problems inside, his transition from boy-no-longer begins to intensify quickly. He’s about to be a catalyst for and get sucked into some nasty business where it's every man for himself, women and children fair game. Fabulous writing as expected with this story inspired by true events. Reviews from male friends gave it five stars with the women coming in at four. For myself, the nonstop gruesome violence and murder was way overdone eventually overriding the characters and story. Sometimes violence works for me and I'm not sure about the cut off point. Generally speaking I can not get through a Quentin Tarantino movie yet loved Inglorious Bastards so it's kind of complicated I guess. This was my third and least favorite of the author’s work—Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter remains my favorite.

  9. 4 out of 5

    J.K. Grice

    Tom Franklin isn't just a great southern writer. He's a great writer, period. He doesn't seem capable of writing a bad book. I enjoyed the hell out of HELL AT THE BREECH. Tom Franklin isn't just a great southern writer. He's a great writer, period. He doesn't seem capable of writing a bad book. I enjoyed the hell out of HELL AT THE BREECH.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lawyer

    Review under construction.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    This is my 3rd Tom Franklin book, and after finishing each of them my first thought on closing the book is, "Wow, this man can write!". He knows how to build a story, how to create suspense, he gives us characters that are human in ways good and bad, and puts words in their mouths that let you see into their souls. There is a lot of violence and cruelty in this book, but let's face it: 1898 in a community of mostly poor tenant farmers who waged a daily battle just to keep their heads above water This is my 3rd Tom Franklin book, and after finishing each of them my first thought on closing the book is, "Wow, this man can write!". He knows how to build a story, how to create suspense, he gives us characters that are human in ways good and bad, and puts words in their mouths that let you see into their souls. There is a lot of violence and cruelty in this book, but let's face it: 1898 in a community of mostly poor tenant farmers who waged a daily battle just to keep their heads above water was not full of all the charms of the civilized lives we lead today. Mitcham's Beat, Alabama was a hard to reach place miles from the nearest town and it's lone sherriff, so when a group of men formed to get revenge for a murder, it was easy to keep their identities secret. The main characters of Billy Waite, the sherriff, Macky Burke, a sixteen year old store clerk, and Granny Gates, the midwife, all have their own secrets to keep. Most of the tension in this novel comes from their choosing if and when and how much of what they know should be told. As is usually the case, plans for revenge spiral out of control. This book gets 4 stars because I am (maybe unfairly) comparing it to "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter", which was the first book I read by Tom Franklin. I loved that book, and this one, while excellent, just couldn't quite compare. But Macky Burke is another shining example of a Franklin character that will remain in my head.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Melki

    "This here is a commitment you won't be able to get out of once you sign up," Tooch went on. He placed a fatherly hand his shoulder and squeezed it until Mack looked up. "Are you willing to own up to the responsibility we're fixing to yoke upon you?" "Yes, sir," he said. "Are you willing to kill, if given the order?" "Yes, sir." "Willing to die, if it comes to that?" "Yes, sir." "In return, you'll get the protection of this inner circle, and of the larger circle without. Since Arch was murdered, we've "This here is a commitment you won't be able to get out of once you sign up," Tooch went on. He placed a fatherly hand his shoulder and squeezed it until Mack looked up. "Are you willing to own up to the responsibility we're fixing to yoke upon you?" "Yes, sir," he said. "Are you willing to kill, if given the order?" "Yes, sir." "Willing to die, if it comes to that?" "Yes, sir." "In return, you'll get the protection of this inner circle, and of the larger circle without. Since Arch was murdered, we've all bunched together in this alliance, with the goal to set things right, and if we all get rich in the meantime, well, that's okay too. "If you ever tell any of what you'll learn, you'll forfeit your life. We all kill you. Do you understand that, Mack?" "Yes, sir." "Welcome," Tooch said, "to Hell-at-the-Breech." Welcome, indeed, to your friendly neighborhood protection racket and terrorist society, 1898 Alabama-style, where a band of night riders do and take whatever they want, and damn the consequences. It's up to the town's sheriff to find a way to end the recent crime spree - difficult to do since all witnesses are either dead, or just not talking. Also looking to stop the gang is an ambitious man with a dark past and an agenda of his own; a man who is as greedy and immoral as the men he is seeking. One teenage boy can bring the violence to a halt, but doing so would not only jeopardize his life and the lives of those he cares for, it would expose his own terrible secret. When the town sends forth a "lynch mob with an appetite" that starts shooting everything in sight, an all out war seems inevitable. This is not a book for everyone. Bad things happen to a lot of people. (And puppies. And a more than a few mules.) I found it to be a completely engrossing read. Normally I need to read at least three books by an author before joining their fan club, but after reading this book and Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter earlier this year, all I can say is - Tom Franklin - I'm yours.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    Talk about gut-wrenching. I don’t think I took any regular breaths while I was reading this book. It was based upon a true incident, and while all the characters and events were fictional, the actual atmosphere must have been oppressive in the county in which this occurred. The story unfolds around the character of Macky Burke, a sixteen year old boy who becomes, without any recourse, involved with a gang of brutal murderers who terrorize a town on the excuse of being country folk avenging thems Talk about gut-wrenching. I don’t think I took any regular breaths while I was reading this book. It was based upon a true incident, and while all the characters and events were fictional, the actual atmosphere must have been oppressive in the county in which this occurred. The story unfolds around the character of Macky Burke, a sixteen year old boy who becomes, without any recourse, involved with a gang of brutal murderers who terrorize a town on the excuse of being country folk avenging themselves against city folk. Sheriff Billy Waite, a decent and honest man, represents the law in the county, but he must contend with corruption on one hand and an almost lax attitude toward crime on the other. As events escalated, I became very fearful for young Macky Burke. To not do as instructed by the criminal group that called itself Hell at the Breech was sure death, to do as instructed put him on the wrong side of the law and destined for a hangman’s noose. Just staying alive seemed to be an almost impossible goal. These were dangerous, immoral, sinister men, but the law was stacked against a man born to the poverty of Mitcham Beat and even Waite, the good man, is a stern taskmaster. None of the characters in this book are shallow or uncomplicated. There is not a definitive line between good and evil, and there is some of each on both sides of the issue. It is easy to understand why people would wish to defy the system, but also easy to see that the system was only barely able to hold off the chaos of lawlessness. It was evident that no one’s life was easy and that try as hard as they may some of these people could not outrun their difficult lives. But, the amount of callousness was astounding. To say you enjoy a book like this one seems wrong. I did, though. I didn’t want to put it down to do those necessary things that interrupt our reading. There didn’t seem to be any part of the narrative that wasn’t moving at an unstoppable speed. Generally, I can pause at a section ending, but I found it just as difficult to break when a break was given as to pause in mid-sentence. Many modern-day thriller writers could take a tip from Tom Franklin on how to build and hold tension and develop a mystery.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kirk Smith

    Don't even pick this up unless you are willing to catch a glimpse in through the gates of Hell. It's no coincidence I'm going on to read a book called The Healing. Don't even pick this up unless you are willing to catch a glimpse in through the gates of Hell. It's no coincidence I'm going on to read a book called The Healing.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Larry Bassett

    Tom Franklin’s first novel was published in 2003 and is a hell of a story. I am reading this story over a decade later and have been prepped to accept that it includes a good deal of violence. I have spent much of my life avoiding violence in books and movies but have tried to reverse course somewhat in the past couple of years. Somehow in my life I got to be a pacifist and generally squeamish about blood and killing. My first son was born in the era when father’s sat in the waiting room. By the Tom Franklin’s first novel was published in 2003 and is a hell of a story. I am reading this story over a decade later and have been prepped to accept that it includes a good deal of violence. I have spent much of my life avoiding violence in books and movies but have tried to reverse course somewhat in the past couple of years. Somehow in my life I got to be a pacifist and generally squeamish about blood and killing. My first son was born in the era when father’s sat in the waiting room. By the time my second son was born, I could have been in the delivery room but my good paternal intentions were stymied when I couldn’t stomach being in the delivery room even during the hospital tour and had to take a seat in the hallway. Quite a few years passed and fathers being in the birthing room became almost mandatory and I “caught” my first daughter when she popped out! We adopted my second daughter so avoided the issue altogether! I have to still smile when I remember that my goal was to be a doctor in my early years before I realized that blood (and organic chemistry) was not my forte. Anyway, my aversion to blood and guts, and ultimately to killing and war seems to have come naturally – maybe from my genes. So, where was I? Oh, yes, Hell at the Breech. My effort to come to terms with blood and violence in my recent years. I have approached Tom Franklin as a source, not of violence, but of good writing. My experience with Crooked Letter Crooked Letter paved my way, though I understand that book may represent a conscious effort by Franklin to tone down the violence found in his earlier work in order to appeal to a wider audience. The sun reached over the horizon to find him walking the land. Around ten he shot a rabbit with his pistol and built a fire and cooked it on a spit held by forked limbs. He watched his fire burn and made coffee and drank it and ate the rabbit while listening to every sound and cataloging them: squirrels barking, a hawk’s cry, wingbeat of an Indian hen, rasp of a diamondback’s belly over fallen leaves. The guy can write it seems. And he can make the obvious point that good writers have been making forever: “… But fear’s as good a reason as any for what we do, ain’t it? And guess what. Even though that’s your reason this time. Next time you won’t need that to be the reason. Cause ever time you do something, no matter what it is , if it’s whacking a croquet ball or catching a fish, ever time you do a thing, the next time it’s a mite easier. And finally you get to be good at catching fish, or playing croquet, or even killing. You get to where you can do it without thinking.” You can do it without thinking. Without being challenged by ethical or moral boundaries. Hell at the Breech is about a community crossing that line of decency, dragging its children along. Posse, gang, mob. Tom Franklin may be against the George Bush turn of the phrase: “If you are not with us, you are with the terrorists.” But he does have his hero say, “Either join us or oppose us.” In the end, the sheriff with one foot in the lynch mob and one foot in the lawful posse lives to hope that his grandson “would grow to manhood and obey and endure the laws of man, who could survive the world the world was becoming.” Sorting the bad guys out from the good guys was not easy. It is clear that Tom Franklin can tell a gripping story. I give him four stars easy for doing that. I’d give him five stars if he made me think he had created any characters that might leave a better world than they had found. Instead, he left me thinking that we are not taking very good care of our puppies or our kids.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Camie

    A powerful examination of good vs evil, if you can figure out which is which, this story is loosely based on true events and contains possibly all the " shoot um up" violence one small book could possibly hold. When an aspiring politician is killed in Mitchum Beat , Alabama in 1897, all hell breaks loose, and a secret society is formed to punish whomever is responsible. The problem is no one knows who that is exactly ... so no one is safe. It gets more dangerous as the supposedly good guys decid A powerful examination of good vs evil, if you can figure out which is which, this story is loosely based on true events and contains possibly all the " shoot um up" violence one small book could possibly hold. When an aspiring politician is killed in Mitchum Beat , Alabama in 1897, all hell breaks loose, and a secret society is formed to punish whomever is responsible. The problem is no one knows who that is exactly ... so no one is safe. It gets more dangerous as the supposedly good guys decide to wage war on the Hell On The Breach ( as the men call themselves) who have become a hooded, blood-sworn gang. Notable characters here are young Mackey, a young store clerk with a deadly secret, Granny, a widowed midwife who delivered most folks around, Sheriff Billy Waite, who's stuck smack between defending both sides, and a ruthless detective who's hell bent for revenge. Somehow a pretty good story manages to bubble up underneath all of the violence. I've heard from many that Crooked Letter is Franklin's best book, so I'll be adding that to the short list. 4.5 stars - August on The Southern Literary Trail, I'm trying to catch up. A shout out to John from that club. I enjoy your post-tests. I scored 94% on this book ( immediately after I read it) so I guess my comprehension is good , though I probably wouldn't pass it next week as my memory is poor, lol. Hashtag/ Why I write myself book summaries.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tom Mathews

    This book has been on my shelf for years waiting patiently for the right time for me to read it. I've read two or three other Tom Franklin books and found them all excellent but this one takes the cake. In one sense you have a war that appears pretty typical, in fiction anyway, with good guys and bad guys. But the more you get into it the more you realize that there is a lot more to it when you look at the participants as individuals. You start to see that the so-called villains have some redeem This book has been on my shelf for years waiting patiently for the right time for me to read it. I've read two or three other Tom Franklin books and found them all excellent but this one takes the cake. In one sense you have a war that appears pretty typical, in fiction anyway, with good guys and bad guys. But the more you get into it the more you realize that there is a lot more to it when you look at the participants as individuals. You start to see that the so-called villains have some redeeming characteristics and that their grievances are not without merit. You also start to see that some of the so-called good guys are not all courage and nobility and that some are, measure for measure, more evil than the any of those they are fighting against. Bottom line: Tom Franklin is a master at building three-dimensional characters. If you can find a copy of this book, get it and read it. If you can't find it, read another of his books. They are all good. My thanks to the folks at the On the Southern Literary Trail group for giving me the opportunity to read and discuss this and many other fine books with others. Reading a book alone can be nioce but sharing your discovery with others makes it exponentially more satisfying.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette

    This novel, I won't attempt a review of the complex characters or plot. Violence beyond words and a social construct of competing survival from the first days of infancy, mark every page of this book. If there is an English word that connotes the total opposite of the word "nurture" you would have the word to define the nuance of this era. There is a old sheriff who wants to try to rectify some of the worst injustices. Gangbangers of the late 1890's in poor scrapple cotton farming South, seemingl This novel, I won't attempt a review of the complex characters or plot. Violence beyond words and a social construct of competing survival from the first days of infancy, mark every page of this book. If there is an English word that connotes the total opposite of the word "nurture" you would have the word to define the nuance of this era. There is a old sheriff who wants to try to rectify some of the worst injustices. Gangbangers of the late 1890's in poor scrapple cotton farming South, seemingly are just as bad, if not worse, than the current variety in drug cartel ghetto urban modern settings. No one is safe in their environment- least of all children who merely look like children, but who are already far introduced into the claw and nail of their lives. Warning, warning! Only read this if you could watch "The Wire" entirely with your eyes open and thought it was worth the education and entertainment to a difficult reality, perhaps quite different than yours. It's more than 100 years earlier here, but the stories and the people have innumerable similarities. Animals have it worse. Historical fiction without any revising to make it pretty. Not for all readers, but gritty and real as road dirt.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Wayne Barrett

    This is quite a gritty, southern gothic tale. There are several bad-ass characters in this one. Some on one side, some on the other, and some, somewhere in between. Lawmen and townspeople, supposed lawmen, poor farmers just trying to survive, some downright cut-throat outlaws, a tough whore and an even tougher granny who brought just about all of them into this world. A tale like this is not for the thin skinned, but Tom Franklin uses very realistic detail and a constant flow of southern Gothic This is quite a gritty, southern gothic tale. There are several bad-ass characters in this one. Some on one side, some on the other, and some, somewhere in between. Lawmen and townspeople, supposed lawmen, poor farmers just trying to survive, some downright cut-throat outlaws, a tough whore and an even tougher granny who brought just about all of them into this world. A tale like this is not for the thin skinned, but Tom Franklin uses very realistic detail and a constant flow of southern Gothic prose and continuing action and drama that certainly makes this an entertaining read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I am going to have to say Tom Franklin delivered a perfect 5 star rating from me. Perfect pacing of the plot and characters. It was definitely a gritty, page turner from the very beginning. May be my favorite from Franklin.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ned

    This is a favorite plot line of mine, ever since No Country for Old Men (McCarthy). The aging sheriff doubting if he has what it takes to put down the freshest manifestation of violence. It is a true story of a gang in the wilderness of Alabama that sprouted post slavery when poor white sharecroppers brought in the cotton and barely survived. An excellent description of picking cotton is provided, along with other authentic characterizations of the place, the detailed tools and items used, and m This is a favorite plot line of mine, ever since No Country for Old Men (McCarthy). The aging sheriff doubting if he has what it takes to put down the freshest manifestation of violence. It is a true story of a gang in the wilderness of Alabama that sprouted post slavery when poor white sharecroppers brought in the cotton and barely survived. An excellent description of picking cotton is provided, along with other authentic characterizations of the place, the detailed tools and items used, and mostly the people. The style of talking is not over-done, yet captures it, and the southern caricatures are avoided. Of course there are people with unusual names (Lev, Massey, Huz, Buz, War and so on). The plot was riveting, with no Faulknerian confusion, and the time period between 1897-1898 covered a peak of activating in an area known as Mitcham Beat. Two boys believe they have killed a man accidentally, and this sets off of a chain of events leading to the genesis of the blood-sworn gang named Hell at the Breech. An old widow is the centerpiece, who knows nearly everything past, and seemingly the future, and raised these boys. The story is about the abject poverty of the sharecroppers and their moonshining sideline to raise their standard of living just over subsistence. The townsfolks are mostly the landowners, and the tension between these groups often explosive. The youngest boy, Mack, is a sympathetic character and, along with the widow, the main protagonist. He comes of age, and Franklin uses this character to showcase his skills as writer to capture the discovery of this world in a point in time. I do love this genre, and that may be the rounding up of my rating to 5 stars ,but Franklin’s story ranks up there with the best (Ian Frazer, Tim Gatreaux, Larry Brown, William Faulkner, William Gay). It is fresh, authentic, and neatly told. The violence is physically detailed and raw, yet the emotional toil it exacts on perpetuator and recipient is not real as some of these authors. But overall, this book is a perfect novel about an historical event, hence an entertaining way to learn about this old world we inhabit.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Dustincecil

    note to self: always blindfold the whore...

  23. 5 out of 5

    Snotchocheez

    From the opening lines of Tom Franklin's debut novel "Hell at the Breech", you know that you're in store for something refreshingly different, and powerful, and and and and (dare I say?) evil and wretched, and know you're holding the end product of some amazing story-telling talent. His account of the very-real Mitcham Beat "war" (hardly a war, more like an extreme case of territorial pissing, in light of the war-to-end-all-wars twenty years or so preceding it) in antebellum southern Alabama is h From the opening lines of Tom Franklin's debut novel "Hell at the Breech", you know that you're in store for something refreshingly different, and powerful, and and and and (dare I say?) evil and wretched, and know you're holding the end product of some amazing story-telling talent. His account of the very-real Mitcham Beat "war" (hardly a war, more like an extreme case of territorial pissing, in light of the war-to-end-all-wars twenty years or so preceding it) in antebellum southern Alabama is haunting, surreal, poetic, and, were it not so disgustingly vile in its depiction of the horrid violence that ensued from this "war", almost totally impossible to stop reading once you've started. The two things (of a laundry list) that most impressed me about this book: 1. Its ability to transcend genre. While many reviewers here have labelled it a "western" (probably not unwarranted, given its horses and vigilante lynch mobs, even though it takes place in Southern Alabama) this bit of historical fiction, with its lyrical prose and sharp wit, make it almost un-catagorizable. (I, in general, am not a fan of either the Western or Historical Fiction genres...but I sure loved this book) I saw it more as a cautionary tale of power corrupted...and the capriciousness of acts of war not thought out clearly...but if you're a fan of Westerns or Historical Fiction, you won't be disappointed, though.) 2. The earnestness of the story. The violence depicted in this tale comes so perilously close to being over the top it almost comes across as as form of torture porn or something...yet the plain-spokenness, and very very real depiction of the main characters keeps the story grounded in reality...the depiction of violence seems almost obligatory and necessary, not gratuitous. Overall, HIGHLY recommended reading.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    Man oh man! Can this guy ever write! Not for the squeamish, this is one of the most violent books I have ever read. It is also a stroll through the darkest aspects of human nature, a Lord of the Flies set in the rural south at the turn of the century, as the underpinnings of civil order disintegrate into a mob mentality. The writing is a blend of Faulkner and Charles Frazier ("Cold Mountain"). The theme is, as I said, Lord of the Flies, Cold Mountain, and The Oxbow Incident rolled into one novel Man oh man! Can this guy ever write! Not for the squeamish, this is one of the most violent books I have ever read. It is also a stroll through the darkest aspects of human nature, a Lord of the Flies set in the rural south at the turn of the century, as the underpinnings of civil order disintegrate into a mob mentality. The writing is a blend of Faulkner and Charles Frazier ("Cold Mountain"). The theme is, as I said, Lord of the Flies, Cold Mountain, and The Oxbow Incident rolled into one novel. I do not much like violent books, but this is warranted as the author explores his theme of the line between good and evil, both within the individual and in society at large. And he is an astoundingly good writer, easily evoking a south of menace and sweetness! Having grown up on a cotton-growing farm in the south myself, I could smell the woodsmoke wafting across the silver-frosted fields, hear the wind through the pines, and see the moonlight glinting white on fields of ripe cotton. Tom Franklin is the real thing--a great writer! However, I repeat, VERY violent. Be warned.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ruth Turner

    An exceptional read but definitely not a story for the faint of heart. There's a lot of violence and animal cruelty. Thanks to Jeanette for suggesting it to me. I loved it. An exceptional read but definitely not a story for the faint of heart. There's a lot of violence and animal cruelty. Thanks to Jeanette for suggesting it to me. I loved it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Richards

    A fictional story based on real events, back in the deep south of America in the 19th century. Gritty and brutal but a great read.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lee Goldberg

    For book lovers, the pleasure and discovery of browsing through a bookstore's shelves can never be replaced or replicated by visiting an online site. A couple of months ago, I was browsing through an independent bookstore in Mendocino, California and happened upon HELL AT THE BREECH by Tom Franklin, which was published in 2003 and yet was still stocked on the shelves as a new title. Imagine a chain bookstore holding on to a title that long. I doubt I ever would have discovered the book otherwise For book lovers, the pleasure and discovery of browsing through a bookstore's shelves can never be replaced or replicated by visiting an online site. A couple of months ago, I was browsing through an independent bookstore in Mendocino, California and happened upon HELL AT THE BREECH by Tom Franklin, which was published in 2003 and yet was still stocked on the shelves as a new title. Imagine a chain bookstore holding on to a title that long. I doubt I ever would have discovered the book otherwise. I finally got around to reading HELL AT THE BREECH in two long, blissful sittings this week, finishing it at 2:30 this morning, invigorated and wishing the book wasn't finished. The experience was like re-uniting with an old lover. The pleasure of reading this fine novel brought back memories of all the hours I'd spent reading good books in my life....huddled in my sleeping bag in a cabin at Loon Lake, sitting on the boardwalk in Capitola, sunbathing on a chaise lounge at my grandfather's place in Palm Springs, lying in the bathtub with my head propped on a wet towel, laying in a hammock with my baby daughter asleep on my chest etc.... and all the associations that came with them, like the smell of suntan lotion, the fresh-caught trout in Nana's smoker, the soap bubbles in the bathtub, the baby lotion on my daughter's skin. A good book can do a lot more than simply entertain and pass the time. HELL AT THE BREECH is one of those books. It's a wonderfully entertaining book, the best western I've read since LONESOME DOVE, though far be it from any of the critics who raved about it....and there were many...to concede it's a western. The closest anyone came was to refer to it as "historical fiction." The book is full of vividly drawn, complex characters...violence, humor, and powerful imagery. There are many moving scenes and darkly funny moments...and many masterful descriptions of people, places, expressions and emotions. I often found myself re-reading passages just to experience the beautifully-evoked images and moment again...and to marvel at Franklin's prose, wishing I had his talent. It's a book that will make you eager to read another book to recapture that pleasure...and, if you are like me, it will inspire you to write.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    A wonderfully written first novel based on a true event back in 1898 Alabama. Deeply disturbing, this novel is a strong commentary on how quickly men can cross over into evil.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    I reviewed this for PW and the Chronicle, the latter of which is pasted below (my original text); fantastic book! Vigilante “Justice” in the post-Civil War South Hell at the Breech By Tom Franklin HarperCollins, 320 pages, $23.95 It’s a cliché of contemporary fiction: literary novels are character-driven; commercial novels are plot-driven. But surely the best, and most lasting, novels integrate both elements. Hell at the Breech, a remarkable first novel by Tom Franklin, represents a nearly perfect sy I reviewed this for PW and the Chronicle, the latter of which is pasted below (my original text); fantastic book! Vigilante “Justice” in the post-Civil War South Hell at the Breech By Tom Franklin HarperCollins, 320 pages, $23.95 It’s a cliché of contemporary fiction: literary novels are character-driven; commercial novels are plot-driven. But surely the best, and most lasting, novels integrate both elements. Hell at the Breech, a remarkable first novel by Tom Franklin, represents a nearly perfect synthesis: complex, interesting characters and a narrative with real momentum and drama, all of which are conveyed in exquisite, intelligent prose. Set in the late 19th century, Hell at the Breech is based on a real-life feud that pitted the underclass of a rural enclave known as Mitcham Beat against the wealthier landowners and merchants of Clarke County, Alabama. Despite the setting, this is not a novel about race or the cancer of slavery. Instead, it dramatizes another legacy of the post-Civil War South: an essentially feudal society in which landowners and the mercantile class exploited poor labor—farmers with no capital, no education, and no honest way to acquire either (people like those featured in the classic Let Us Now Praise Famous Men). It was a system that fueled resentment and bred bitterness; in Clarke County, it was a system that led to an outbreak of shocking violence. Like all great novels, there’s no explicit political or socioeconomic agenda in Hell at the Breech. Instead, Franklin, the author of the award-winning short story collection Poachers, has taken this historical reality and re-invented it in human and dramatic terms. In the process, he has produced a brilliant novel that is a testament to the pleasures of superior fiction. The title of the novel refers to the name taken by a gang of hooded vigilantes formed by Quincy “Tooch” Bledsoe, ostensibly to avenge the murder of his cousin Arch, a country storekeeper running for state representative. An orphan raised alongside his wealthier cousin, Tooch has more in common with the poor white farmers he recruits for his gang than he does with the “town folks” who are his enemy. But Tooch is no idealistic populist; he’s a pure opportunist, and he catalyzes his long-simmering anger and understandable greed into a spark that ignites the other white farmers struggling to get by. His Hell-at-the-Breech gang ruthlessly uses ambushes, arson, and lynching to terrorize the county—and to line their own pockets. Their victims include townspeople, obviously, but also poor white farmers too fearful to join the mob and former slaves. Tooch is rendered brilliantly on the page; he’s both despicably violent and deeply human. And he’s just one of many fascinating, sharply etched characters that populate this book. The nearly heroic Clarke County Sheriff Billy Waite, for example, sets out to uncover the truth behind this undeclared war and restore some kind of peace. A thoughtful, fair-minded man, Waite is a reluctant go-between between the denizens of Mitcham Beat and the townspeople who pay his salary; he has a deep and abiding respect for the people he serves, but he isn’t afraid to step outside the law in the pursuit of justice. Another character nearly deserves her own novel: the Widow Gates, midwife to half the county and “said to be able to discern ghosts from living folks.” Even minor characters are economically but surely delineated. Describing Ardy Grant, a kind of private investigator but mostly just looking for violence, Franklin writes that he was “a good-looking fellow who took a little too much pride in his appearance....Couldn’t pass a window glass without pausing to check the set of his hat on his head.” One of the best aspects of this fine book is that Franklin renders these characters—mostly uneducated, entirely unsophisticated people—with great dignity and affection; he clearly admires their intelligence, however uncultivated, and their tenacity. (Like the characters in Faulkner’s novels, they endure.) There’s not a condescending note in these 300-plus pages. Franklin conjures an almost forgotten world with wit and economy. The book is steeped in Southern vernacular that never feels intrusive or contrived, and it teems with humor: “Rumors fly out of Mitcham Beat like hair in a catfight.” Two loafers assess the weather: “ ‘You reckon it might expectorate on us today?’ ‘I expectorate so.’” And in a testament to his capabilities as a stylist, Franklin fills the book with incisive, poetic observation: in a field of cotton, “each tuft [is] white as a senator’s eyebrow.” The prose has a kind of Old Testament quality, a heavy, insistent cadence that is elegiac, powerful, and heartfelt: “she would fall into a silence heavy with meaning and edged with sad yearning, the kind of mood a child recognizes and is thrilled by, the first ginger tug of your older self, a kind of undertow.” Speaking of a man whose wife had died, Franklin writes that “the blue of loss about him could color a room.” Make no mistake: Despite its humor and despite its poetry, this book is luridly violent, a dark and unsentimental perspective on history with scenes as harrowing and grisly as anything we might encounter in a turn-of-the-century mafia story. Indeed, like a mafia story, the book’s overriding dynamic is that of rich versus poor, the powerful versus the powerless. But it never descends to a simplistic kind of economic determinism. Instead, Franklin weaves an appropriately complex fabric of characters, motivations, and events, the design of which depends on every strand and its relationship to every other. He dramatizes the feud in entirely human terms. We believe these people, and we come to understand them despite the remoteness of their experience from contemporary life. And we are drawn to them by virtue of their humanity and because of the book’s tremendous narrative momentum. Literary novels filled with exquisite, well-wrought prose are surprisingly common, but what is rare—and worth celebrating—are books that put first-rate writing to work in the creation of credible characters with compelling stories. This is a great novel, and one that heralds the arrival of an important new voice in American fiction.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kiwi Begs2Differ ✎

    This historical novel portrays a dark and dangerous world. It is based on a true story occurred in the late 1800s, when a gang of local men calling themselves “Hell at the breach” started a campaign of terror against the town people of Grove Hill in Alabama. A single juvenile reckless murder starts a chain of violence, its consequences are felt throughout the small community, lives will be lost, the guilty as well as the innocent. The book exposes the basest human traits, the meanness, the pettine This historical novel portrays a dark and dangerous world. It is based on a true story occurred in the late 1800s, when a gang of local men calling themselves “Hell at the breach” started a campaign of terror against the town people of Grove Hill in Alabama. A single juvenile reckless murder starts a chain of violence, its consequences are felt throughout the small community, lives will be lost, the guilty as well as the innocent. The book exposes the basest human traits, the meanness, the pettiness, the misery, the envy, the mindless violence towards men and beast and for this reason may not be to everyone’s taste. The perpetual struggle between good and evil and the strong instinct for survival are important themes here. Where the law permits injustice, the line between right and wrong gets blurred; who do you turn to when you seek revenge, if not to your own? How easily can the actions for a just cause get out of hand? There’s a vibrant and complex cast of characters and many, many stories to tell; the old midwife, the shop owner, the sheriff, the swindler, the peddler, the cotton sharecroppers, the young and the old, they form a cohesive picture of rural south, pulling the reader in the middle of it. Tom Franklin writing talent is in evidence here; this is my second novel by this great storyteller and certainly won’t be my last. If you like hillbilly noir and can stand a gritty story I would highly recommend. 4.5 stars Fav. Quote: Waite felt a mixture of relief and worry as he picked his way through the bramble and huckleberry bushes toward the road where he could already see the movement and color of men on horseback and hear low voices and the squeak of leather and horses nickering and blowing. He was out of one fix but here was another to negotiate, this one stickier because it involved friends. At least with enemies you knew where to aim.

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