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Fateful Mornings: A Henry Farrell Novel

Review

Fateful Mornings: A Henry Farrell Novel

It really doesn’t get any better than this. Seriously. Tom Bouman doesn’t write quickly, but he writes very, very well, evoking the spirit of the authors I refer to as “the two King James,” those being James Lee Burke and James Sallis. He doesn’t attempt to channel the style of either man; you can either write that well or you can’t. Bouman can, as demonstrated in the short space of two novels.

Bouman won critical acclaim for DRY BONES IN THE VALLEY, his debut that featured a quietly haunted township police officer named Henry Farrell. The newly published and greatly anticipated FATEFUL MORNINGS reintroduces the reader to Bouman’s flawed, very human protagonist and the backdrop of rural northeast Pennsylvania where it butts up against New York State.

"What Bouman gives us is a very subtle tinkering with the traditional progression of the mystery novel. It somewhat put me in the mind of a literary version of the 'Fargo' television series, with the quirky characters but without the dark humor."

Farrell’s domain is the fictional Wild Thyme, Pennsylvania, a name tinged in irony for more than one reason. His days are spent patrolling, while his evenings are devoted to an occasional stint as a fiddler in a bluegrass pickup band, an activity that doesn’t keep him from rising early enough to hunt some wild turkey. These activities help (though not always successfully) to keep the memories of his deceased wife at bay. Eventually, however, life gets in the way of Farrell’s police routine of writing tickets on speeding truck convoys or dealing with the ever-present drunk-and-disorderly incidents in local taverns.

A local man named Kevin O’Keeffe, who could be described as a substance problem with carpentry skills, reports that his girlfriend is nowhere to be found. The missing woman, Penny Pellings, is no prize either (twos don’t hook up with tens as a general rule). Farrell is professionally familiar with both of them, given their occasional domestic disagreement as well as a Children’s Services action that resulted in their young child being placed in foster care. O’Keeffe seems genuinely distraught over Penny’s sudden absence. But when she fails to materialize at any of her familiar haunts and does not contact her small circle of friends and family, the inevitable conclusion is that O’Keeffe may be responsible for her disappearance and possible demise.

Farrell spends a good deal of time in Part One of FATEFUL MORNINGS setting up the dominoes of the mystery so that he can toss a hand grenade into the proceedings at the beginning of Part Two. What Bouman gives us is a very subtle tinkering with the traditional progression of the mystery novel. It somewhat put me in the mind of a literary version of the “Fargo” television series, with the quirky characters but without the dark humor. It is in Part Two that a shadowy and dangerous figure is introduced, one who is barely seen in Part One but in retrospect plays an important role from the beginning of the book. By story’s end, one mystery is solved but another awaits, and Farrell’s careless though understandable behavior is a potential landmine in his future. It’s not a question of whether he’ll step on it; it’s a question of when.

FATEFUL MORNINGS is terrific reading, a keeper that you’ll want to read at least twice and maybe even more frequently. You’ll wish that everything was this good.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 7, 2017

Fateful Mornings: A Henry Farrell Novel
by Tom Bouman

  • Publication Date: June 27, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • ISBN-10: 0393249646
  • ISBN-13: 9780393249644