STARRED REVIEW
May 2003

The South’s killing fields

By Tom Franklin
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Hell at the Breech, the anticipated first novel by award-winning author Tom Franklin, combines adventure, mystery, Southern saga and tragedy, delivering a disturbing meditation on murder and its repercussions through time.

Franklin won an Edgar Award for "Poachers," the title story of his acclaimed 1999 collection. Often compared to Faulkner, he combines the Nobel Laureate's mastery of evocative language and his fascination with the dark underside of humanity. Franklin's prose is taut and beautiful. Sunset is "the blueing dark that seemed to edge down from the clouds and up from the ground, trapping a bleak red line of horizon in the middle, the eye of the world shutting."

In Hell at the Breech, Franklin explores what happens to good, weak, wronged and evil men when they kill. After an accidental shooting, sharecroppers decide to avenge the death by becoming a gang, naming themselves Hell at the Breech. Ringleader Tooch Bedsole, cousin of the murdered Arch, argues, "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." The men begin a murder spree that culminates in a town-led manhunt, and the reader watches in horror as lives and families disintegrate.

Franklin's heroes range from the sensitive, young, accidental murderer, Mack, to the jaded sheriff, Billy Waite. The worst villain, Tooch, "borrow[s] one encyclopedia volume a week and read[s] it by candlelight in the barn, exploring the world a letter at a time." Franklin also breathes life into the wise Widow Gates, a woman whose fierce protection of her foster sons also becomes a catalyst for death. No one is exempt from responsibility. From the first page, Hell at the Breech is an important novel, one with the potential to change the way the reader sees life and death. Watch for Franklin to win more awards for this stunning first novel.

Mary Carol Moran is the author of Clear Soul: Metaphors and Meditations.

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Hell at the Breech

Hell at the Breech

By Tom Franklin
Morrow
ISBN 9780688167417

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