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Reviews of The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt

The Killing Hills

The Mick Hardin Novels #1

by Chris Offutt

The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt X
The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2021, 240 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 2022, 240 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Amanda Ellison
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About this Book

Book Summary

A literary master across genres, award-winning author Chris Offutt's latest novel, The Killing Hills, is a compelling, propulsive thriller in which a suspicious death exposes the loyalties and rivalries of a deep-rooted and fiercely private community in the Kentucky backwoods.

Mick Hardin, a combat veteran now working as an Army CID agent, is home on a leave that is almost done. His wife is about to give birth, but they aren't getting along. His sister, newly risen to sheriff, has just landed her first murder case, and local politicians are pushing for city police or the FBI to take the case. Are they convinced she can't handle it, or is there something else at work? She calls on Mick who, with his homicide investigation experience and familiarity with the terrain, is well-suited to staying under the radar. As he delves into the investigation, he dodges his commanding officer's increasingly urgent calls while attempting to head off further murders. And he needs to talk to his wife.

The Killing Hills is a novel of betrayal―sexual, personal, within and between the clans that populate the hollers―and the way it so often shades into violence. Chris Offutt has delivered a dark, witty, and absolutely compelling novel of murder and honor, with an investigator-hero unlike any in fiction.

Chapter One

The old man walked the hill with a long stick, pushing aside mayapple and horseweed, seeking ginseng. It grew low to the earth obscured by the undergrowth. Last year he'd found several plants in this vicinity, an ideal habitat due to slopes that faced east, away from the hard sun of afternoon. The remnants of a rotting elm lay nearby, another good sign. He stopped to catch his breath. He was eighty-one years old, the oldest man in the community, the only old man he knew.

The ground was damp with dew, and tendrils of mist laced the upper branches. The rise and fall of morning birds filled the air. There were mostly hardwoods in here, trees he liked for their size and bounty of nuts. Cut and split, two trees were enough to keep a family warm all winter.

He moved upslope from the bottom of a narrow holler covered in ferns. Strapped to his belt was a pouch that contained ginseng plants with forked roots. One was large and

sprouted three distinct prongs, each worth a pretty ...

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Reviews

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As a detective novel, The Killing Hills gradually delivers its promised thrills. Nevertheless, the plot is unremarkable and arguably formulaic. As for the noir aspect, the genre has been so ubiquitous over the past decade or so that one could be forgiven for thinking that all the flavor has been well and truly chewed out of this particular piece of gum. But Offutt breathes fresh life into these established genres. This is primarily achieved through the visceral concentration of demographic knowledge and forensic understanding of the hollers' inhabitants. The author subtly scrutinizes the "eye for an eye" value system along with dismissive cultural attitudes about women. He also chooses to subvert traditional female stereotypes: Linda, despite seeking her brother's help, is clearly able to hold her own; Peggy takes charge of her life in the absence of her husband; and even the victim turns out to have played a role in her destiny...continued

Full Review (767 words)

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(Reviewed by Amanda Ellison).

Media Reviews

New York Journal of Books
Loyalty and betrayal slide back and forth in this tightly plotted, immaculately paced novel...The Killing Hills probes the darkness in both land and families, along with the limits of forgiveness. It's not just a fine and unforgettable crime novel. It's a heartbreak and a bond.

LitHub
The fine dark art of the noir simile springs from the amoral beauty of the Icelandic sagas, flows forward in time through the savant, poetic solecisms of Raymond Chandler, and drains into the rich, black soil of Chris Offutt's high holler novels...The Killing Hills is vividly evocative...A riveting, page-turning package.

New York Times
With its deftly plotted short chapters, fast-moving story line, minimal characterizations and strong regional atmosphere, Chris Offutt's new novel, his third, more resembles a high-quality TV crime series set in rural America...than a work of literary fiction like its predecessor, Country Dark...[G]enre has hobbled the natural gifts Offutt has displayed in his thoughtful, nuanced and provocative memoirs.

Booklist (starred review)
Offutt superbly blends classic country noir and character study, [with] both great sadness and understated humor.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
The lean prose elicits more than a hard-boiled style, and while the brisk yet gnarled atmosphere is reminiscent of Winter's Bone, the dime-store crime novels of Jim Thompson, or even William Faulkner's Sanctuary, Offutt brilliantly evokes the body and soul of his wounded hero. It adds up to a mesmerizing and nightmarish view of what lurks just over the hills. This is sure to be Offutt's breakout.

Kirkus Reviews
The murder plot ends up being nearly secondary, but that's not to the novel's disadvantage: In place of plot convolutions, Offutt offers those of Appalachian folkways. The result is a fast-paced, satisfying read. Rural crime fiction that kicks like a mule.

Author Blurb Stephen Mack Jones, author of the August Snow series
Chris Offutt's The Killing Hills is a tense, thoroughly engaging read exposing a Kentucky hill country peppered with deceptive decency, deflecting manners and deadly trip wires all just waiting to snag the Army CID boots of Offutt's formidable hero, Mick Hardin. A relentless story crafted with elegance, empathy and propulsive suspense.

Reader Reviews

Nene Belmonte

The Killing Hills
I like this book. It gives me chills while reading this.

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Beyond the Book

Misogynistic Themes in Murder Ballads

In The Killing Hills, which takes place in Kentucky, misogyny manifests in attitudes toward key female characters, notably the town sheriff. Additionally, the act of femicide is a central theme and a reminder of cultural aspects of female subjugation, including the murder ballad, a song format that is notably popular as a sub-genre of Appalachian folk music.

The origins of the murder ballad can be traced back to regions of Britain and Scandinavia, and became part of an oral tradition imported to the United States by British migrants who settled in Appalachia. One of the earliest examples of the song form, "The Twa Sisters" (The Two Sisters), is known to have existed in Britain as far back as 1656. It tells the story of one sister ...

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Read-Alikes

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