If there’s anyone out there still lamenting the absence of Elmore Leonard’s “Justified” on TV, you can get your fix of small-town Kentucky criminals in Jesse Donaldson’s debut thriller, The More They Disappear. The novel starts with the shocking assassination of longtime Kentucky Sheriff Lew Mattock at his own re-election campaign barbecue and quickly escalates into a thrilling manhunt for his killer.
Chief Deputy Harlan Dupee steps up as acting sheriff to investigate the shooting, following a trail of dark secrets amid the townsfolk he only thought he knew. Along the way he discovers his former boss wasn’t as upstanding a lawman as he believed. At the root of everything is a prescription drug trade that has its hooks in everyone, from the town’s most innocent children to even its most prominent citizens.
Donaldson keeps the plot moving at a swift pace, adding more mystery and a growing list of suspects with each chapter. Thrown into the mix is whether Dupee should seek to run for election when Mattock’s own son, Lewis, also intends to win his father’s badge.
The novel works on a number of levels and should appeal to a broad swath of readers, whether you’re looking for an action-filled genre story or an introspective study of how addiction and poverty can lead to absolute corruption, lies, and shattered dreams. Dupee’s deeply moral sense of right and wrong and his doubts as to the effectiveness of the law add a layer of sophistication and rumination to an otherwise straightforward whodunit.
Donaldson writes with authority on the Kentucky hill country, as he was both born and raised in the bluegrass state. His writing has appeared in The Oxford American, Crazyhorse and other magazines.