The author of Country Dark delivers a literary crime novel set in the Kentucky hills, where Army CID agent Mick Hardin is home on leave. When his sister, newly promoted to sheriff, asks for his help solving a murder, Mick delves into the investigation, dodging his commanding officer's increasingly urgent calls while attempting to head off further murders.
A taut, gripping thriller, it also draws us deep into the lives of its troubled characters with wit, compassion, and insight ... The same knack for propulsion, characterization, and snappy dialogue that made Chris Offutt a natural for Hollywood are on ample display in The Killing Hills. The sentences and chapters are crisp and crackling, the mood and tone dark and ominous but not devoid of humor. Put simply, the man knows how to keep the pages turning ... The result is a novel that, like fine Kentucky bourbon, goes down easy and leaves a long, lingering burn.
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 ... Offutt’s deeper concern would seem to be for the region itself, a 'hillbilly elegy' distinctly his own for the paradoxical mixture of geographical beauty and economic distress that has characterized portrayals of Appalachia for decades, where 'deaths of despair' have become commonplace. The velocity of The Killing Hills doesn’t allow for much exposition or nuance, but this theme is struck emphatically ... Is this comedy? Caricature? Reportage? It’s difficult to write about marginalized regions of America without sounding inadvertently condescending, or, worse, contemptuous; Offutt, who has identified himself as 'a country boy who’s clawed his way out of the hills of eastern Kentucky, one of the steepest social climbs in America,' navigates this sensitive terrain with skill and a measure of respect for his subject ... Surprisingly, The Killing Hills spends very little time on the first murder victim, and as other bodies — about whose lives the reader knows virtually nothing — pile up, the novel begins to thin, like landscape seen from a rapidly moving vehicle, or like a screenplay that will 'come alive' in another medium ... In this case, genre has hobbled the natural gifts Offutt has displayed in his thoughtful, nuanced and provocative memoirs ... Shackling this narrative to the crime/mystery genre is like shackling a mule to substitute for a porch post: Perhaps it can be done, but why?
... part thriller, part bittersweet tribute to author Chris Offutt’s Appalachian roots. The curious mix of elegiac prose, violence and quirky humor delivers a vibrant yarn that keeps readers engaged right up until the last uplifting page ... [a] slim but compelling work of literary suspense.