Review

Black Valley

by Jim Brown



There are for readers few pleasures that surpass picking up a novel
and having one's expectations, however high they may be,
simultaneously exceeded and turned upside down. 2003 has been a
good year for such an experience, what with SMALL TOWN by Lawrence
Block and SHUTTER ISLAND by Dennis Lehane, among others. It is,
however, an unexpected and welcome event to have a writer
accomplish such a feat with a sophomore effort. This is precisely
what Jim Brown has done with BLACK VALLEY.

BLACK VALLEY opens with what could be called a "locked coffin"
mystery --- what else do you call it when you lock someone in a
coffin, bury them, unearth the coffin a few hours later and find it
empty? The story then picks up 22 years later, as things in Black
Valley, Oregon begin to rapidly and inexplicably reach FUBAR
status. The action seems to gradually center on five people: John
Evans, the town sheriff; Nathan Perkins, the mayor; Clyde Watkins,
the area's congressman; Mason Evans, the founder of a successful
construction company and John's cousin; and Dean Truman,
self-effacing genius, Nobel-prize winner, and professor at the
local college. The five were boyhood friends, and all except Truman
were involved 22 years before in the prank burial of a dangerous
misfit named Whitey Dobbs, a burial that went suddenly and horribly
wrong.

Now Whitey Dobbs, missing from the casket and Black Valley for 22
years, suddenly reappears, as inexplicable events begin to occur in
and around the town. Truman holds to his core belief that there are
no phenomena that cannot be explained scientifically. His belief is
shaken, however, when occurrences in and around the town become
more mysterious, and more and more deadly. Truman slowly realizes
that he may hold the key not only to the reappearance of Dobbs, but
also to the deadly events that are occurring --- and that he may
well be responsible for them. And the key to everything may partly
lie in the secret that Truman has kept for decades, the secret that
has prevented him from leaving BLACK VALLEY.

BLACK VALLEY is a genre-blurring book, mixing equal parts suspense,
mystery, horror, and a few other things as well, to create a novel
that from beginning to end is impossible to predict or anticipate
and that surprises from first page to last. Brown, who created the
expectation of more great things with 24/7, his first novel, meets
that expectation and surpasses it. There is no doubt he will
continue to do so: books as good as BLACK VALLEY don't come along
by accident. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011

Black Valley
by Jim Brown

  • Publication Date: July 1, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345446992
  • ISBN-13: 9780345446992