Gods of Howl Mountain by Taylor Brown

Rory Docherty has returned home from the Korean War, missing the bottom half of his Gods of Howl Mountainleft leg and reeling from remembered horrors.  Being a maimed man, he doesn’t see himself fit for mill work in the closest town.  Instead, he runs moonshine for Eustace Uptree, the biggest operator of illicit stills in the county.

Home to Rory is the fastness of  Howl Mountain, where he lives with his grandmother Grannie May, a hard-talking herbalist whose name is well-known to the folks who visit her for her tinctures and potions.  Rory’s mother, Grannie May’s daughter, has long been out of the picture, years after an incident that left a man dead, another lacking an eye, and her mute ever since.

For Rory, running ‘shine has its own sets of problems.  There’s the Muldoons, a rival faction of bootleggers known for rotgut liquor and bad news wherever you meet them.  The county sheriff proves as dirty as any, and makes his own rules for the whiskey trade.  There’s also a federal agent creating havoc with the local bootlegging game who proves to be a scary foe to Rory.

With all this potential mayhem, let’s throw in the complications of love and lust.  Rory finds his heart taken at, of all places, a snake handling church, and then realizes that his love interest has connections with all the wrong people, including the sheriff.

Gods of Howl Mountain is a rollicking tale of souped-up cars, mountain lore, revenge, and sorrow.  The book draws some parallels to the film Thunder Road and the book The Wettest County in the World.  In the hands of this author, though, what could be a familiar rural noir trope becomes a well-written yarn that evokes the Blue Ridge Mountain setting nicely.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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