Book Review: Hell at the Breech
Hell at the Breech, by Tom Franklin (368 pages)
Description from Amazon
In 1897, an aspiring politician is mysteriously murdered in the rural area of Alabama known as Mitcham Beat. His outraged friends — —mostly poor cotton farmers — form a secret society, Hell-at-the-Breech, to punish the townspeople they believe responsible. The hooded members wage a bloody year-long campaign of terror that culminates in a massacre where the innocent suffer alongside the guilty. Caught in the maelstrom of the Mitcham war are four people: the aging sheriff sympathetic to both sides; the widowed midwife who delivered nearly every member of Hell-at-the-Breech; a ruthless detective who wages his own war against the gang; and a young store clerk who harbors a terrible secret.
Based on incidents that occurred a few miles from the author’s childhood home, Hell at the Breech chronicles the events of dark days that led the people involved to discover their capacity for good, evil, or for both.
Hell at the Breech was the second novel I read by Tom Franklin, the first being Crooked Letter Crooked Letter. In that novel, Franklin’s writing style really won me over and the characters really jumped off the pages to me. In Hell at the Breech, I found it much harder to get into the story, but once it starts to heat up, it doesn’t let up right until the end. I’ll let you know right up front: Hell at the Breech is not for the faint of heart. While I was bored with a large majority of the first hundred pages, the “massacre” that occurs towards the end is just that.
The character progression is slow and I don’t think I liked the characters in this novel as much as Crooked Letter Crooked Letter but there was one notable exception. The young store clerk’s story is one that ties the entire novel together and I found it worth fighting through the beginning chapters to realize the depth of his character was worth the investment.
What is very consistant is Franklin’s writing. It’s beautifully simple,as you can see from this passage I’ll share below.
“The weather had turned, the week’s worth of rain finally blown south, and the temperature had dropped slowly and steadily all day, settling now before dusk in the midthirties. Along the high ridges to the west a line of dead live oaks stood bare and black like splintered bones against the sunset, the bottom of the sky streaked with dark, red-edged clouds.”
Let me know if the comments if you’ve read Hell at the Breech and if so, what you thought of it.