Dry Bones in the Valley
DRY BONES IN THE VALLEY defies easy categorization. There were many times that I felt as if I was reading a western, but it is set in the very rough and rural environs of northeastern Pennsylvania (would that make it an “eastern”?) in the township of Wild Thyme. Though there is a mystery (make that mysteries) at the heart of it, and while there are thriller elements as well, the book is equally a character- and situation-driven novel that opens the door for much, much more to follow.
The story is narrated by Henry Farrell, a Wild Thyme native who, after military duty in Somalia and an abbreviated career in law enforcement out west, has returned to his roots and become the township’s only policeman. Farrell is emotionally troubled, an unsocial soul by his own admission, and he implies that during the course of the novel, he expected much less from the job than he actually encounters. This is very well demonstrated at the story’s beginning, with the discovery of a partially decomposed body on the property of an ancient and eccentric long-time resident who is unable to give a good accounting (or any accounting at all) as to how the corpse came to arrive on his property. The grisly finding of the unidentified body sets off a rapid-fire chain reaction, commencing with the murder of another law enforcement officer.
"Debut author Tom Bouman is a gem. Farrell, while not an entirely likable character, is one who readers can respect. Through Farrell, Bouman presents a believable narrative that approaches stream-of-consciousness but never loses its thread."
The local county sheriff, with whom Farrell occasionally butts heads jurisdictionally, and the somewhat reluctant state patrol begin an investigation and manhunt that takes them into the heart of a rural community that is being transformed financially by fracking operations but has also been invaded by the presence of homemade crystal meth labs and the influx of heroin dealing from drug cartels moving unchecked from the south. Farrell doggedly pursues his investigation, in spite of a head injury that he attempts to ignore at his professional and personal peril, while the narrative occasionally moves backward in time as Farrell relates his tragic backstory, (partially) filling in the blanks in the picture of what he is and how he came to be.
Meanwhile, the investigation is hampered by the natural reclusiveness of the local residents so that it occasionally seems to go in circles. When an ancient grave is discovered in a remote location, it reveals more than a body. Secrets that have laid silent for decades are unearthed, leading directly and indirectly to other revelations that will quietly shake the community to its core.
Debut author Tom Bouman is a gem. Farrell, while not an entirely likable character, is one who readers can respect. Through Farrell, Bouman presents a believable narrative that approaches stream-of-consciousness but never loses its thread. While the mysteries presented in DRY BONES IN THE VALLEY are ultimately resolved, not all of the issues are. Bouman, in fact, sets up one in the final few pages, which may well provide intriguing subplot grist for a sequel. I hope so. Recommended for your end-of-summer pleasure.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 8, 2014