Pages: 198/253 kb
Out on his porch, he looked up at the clear sky and listened to the sounds he grew up with. Night was his favorite as the sounds from the nearby highway were less and it was easier to imagine growing up and playing in those same woods as a kid. Everything was possible. That was before their Dad left. Before their Mom died. Before Mike lost himself to the bottle, the blunt, the needle and who knew what else.
The main argument people have against eBooks is that they don't want physical books to disappear, which is not really an argument, per se. I've been reading on my Kindle for almost a year, and came to the conclusion the electronic takeover isn't going to happen for a while. In fact, the two cousin mediums function like alternate dimensions and great writers who disappear from the physical books world tend to re-appear with a vengeance on the Kindle store. R. Thomas Brown is one of these writers who started on the eBooks circuit and who are working their way up the charts. His short story collection MAYHEM showed obvious talent, but the wide range of the stories kept things rather superficial, like the author was trying out genres. HILL COUNTRY is Brown's first novel and it wears the Snubnose Press seal of quality. R. Thomas Brown writes crime fiction with a tainted varnish of dirt and guts. His Texas is a lonely and hostile place.
Protagonist Gabe Hill is a simple man. He's a smart guy, the bookworm type, coming from a difficult family and living in a difficult place for intellectuals to blossom and be useful to their environment. His brother Mike is a drug addict that tore his family apart before vanishing a long time ago. One day, Mike's antics catch back to Gabe as somebody named Jake approaches him and asks for money his brother owed him for a job. Jake is nervous and tells Gabe he better cough up the dough or a man named Tyler will make him. Of course, since Gabe is a smart guy, he tells Jake to go to hell, but that's when his life starts to change. He meets the said Tyler and a woman named Abby, who immediately fills an emotional void in his life. Slowly, Gabe sinks deeper and deepr into what Mike's life used to be. His survival depends on it.
R. Thomas Brown is an author that likes to keep things simple and efficient. HILL COUNTRY is a plot-driven, dialogue-heavy affair that moves at a blazing speed. It's rather thin on character development and exposition and it's all filtered through the plot events. A good part of HILL COUNTRY's charm is the growing symbiosis between Gabe and his absent brother Mike. They couldn't be more different and yet, they go through the same path and Gabe gradually understands more and more who his brother really was. Brown has this "Hemingwayesque" touch of hinting at something through plot events, without making it too obvious. The relationship to Abby was interesting also, as it exposed a clash in between Gabe's intellectual and emotional sides. It truly exposes what kind of person he is.
"Gabe, what the fuck got into you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Breaking and entering? Isn't that a little off for you?"
Gabe bristled at the suggestion. "Hey, all this shit is a little off. I'm getting threatened by people I don't know. I've found three mutilated bodies so far."
It's not the first time I read R. Thomas Brown and get this nagging feeling that something is off. There is something about his protagonists that keeps me from identifying to them. After a chat with the author, we found out what it was. Brown's protagonists are often start very clean. Things happened in their pasts and it didn't define them at all. In the short stories, defining events happen and it's over, but part of what makes HILL COUNTRY his most interesting work to date is that Gabe's definition as a human being happens in real time and his decisions have consequences later in the novel and change the game. It's an ambitious concept that works well, but I would've love to get a better sense of who Gabe was at the start. HILL COUNTRY is about who he becomes, but who he used to be doesn't make it risky bet to become somebody else. Do I make sense?
HILL COUNTRY could have been written by Elmore Leonard, on a stormy night, with a Tequila bottle by the typewriter. It's that kind of story where everything moves fast and questionable choices pile up quicker than the protagonist can undo them. It's an abrasive thrill ride that will lead you down a rabbit hole of violence, death and horrible life choices. R. Thomas Brown is getting better at each book he releases and I love the direction he's going. HILL COUNTRY is a strong first novel. It's one of these books that hide on Amazon and will make you feel like an Indiana Jones of the digital age for digging them out. R. Thomas Brown is a great, new talent from the Kindle dimension.