"Bluck’s mystery pairs up Kentucky game warden Luke Ryder and his best friend, county sheriff Jim Pike, to solve the murder of Louisville gang member Carlos Rios. Ryder, a self-professed alcoholic on the brink of being fired, is pulled into the investigation because the murder occurred on a farm during black powder hunting season in 2029. His alcoholism haunts his attempts to become a respectable lawman; Pike clings to the notion that solving the murder will jettison Ryder into sobriety. The men join forces to piece together an ominous puzzle and bring justice to this small Kentucky town.
Murder, gangs, and black-market marijuana run rampant in this testosterone-filled thriller. Whether a given reader connects with it will depend on their tolerance for a few elements. Many of the men surrounding Ryder enable his drinking and, surprisingly, his eventual attempts at recovery don’t get much focus. He jumps into a romantic relationship with a woman within a couple of hours of meeting her. Racism is treated as a fact of life in the Holler in 2029; while Ryder, who is white, is shown to be actively opposed to discrimination and prejudice, he describes his sister Renee as “not a racist” even though she has held off on admitting Black children to the daycare she runs because existing white clients “don’t like that idea.”
But Bluck’s mystery keeps readers quickly flipping the pages with short, fast-moving chapters and weaves comprehensive explanations into the dialogue for readers who aren’t already familiar with hunting and black powder weapons. Ryder’s struggles raise the book’s stakes: he’s trying not only to quit drinking, to avoid losing his job and pushing away the people who care about him, but also to overcome a tragic past fueling his inner demons (“The dead man seemed...like a discarded puppet.... Seeing him as a kid’s doll is my defense mechanism kicking in”). And the mystery itself is twisty, with multiple potential suspects and motives. Southern murder mystery fans will feel right at home in the Holler.
Takeaway: For Southern murder mystery fans, this whodunit and its heart-of-gold protagonist will hit a bullseye.
Great for fans of: James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux Series, Brian Panowich’s Like Lions.
Design and typography: A+
Marketing copy: A+" -- BookLife Reviews
Copyright 2023 John G. Bluck