Dry Bones in the Valley

Tom Bouman wants to do for rural northeastern Pennsylvania what Daniel Woodrell did for the Ozarks on the Missouri-Arkansas border. Dry Bones in the Valley is a contemporary mystery set in the Appalachians, a wild land of lumbering, hunting and the drug trade. Thanks to companies drilling for natural gas, it has become wealthier and dangerous. Officer Henry Farrell of Wild Thyme Township was born and raised in the valley, and he rents an old farmhouse on the ridge; it's where he belongs. The shy young man tells us his story in a straightforward, unassuming manner. Not much happens here--until now.

During an investigation of a domestic disturbance, Aub Dunigan, an ornery old coot, tells Henry there's a "fellow got killed in my woods," up on the mountain, "come on up and collect him... he's not my doing." Melting snow uncovered the torn-up body of an unknown young man, his fingertips removed, teeth smashed. Stranger still, he was shot with a muzzle-loaded musket. Soon, Henry's deputy winds up dead, shot in the head, his car next to a junkyard for reasons no one can fathom. Nudged by nosy friends and neighbors, Henry's investigation forces him down a road that leads directly to long-undisturbed, ominous territory.

This is an auspicious debut: a solid mystery, well told, with rich characters, an atmospheric setting and a surprise ending readers won't see coming. There's a good chance the Walt Longmire-esque Henry will be back for more. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

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