What Grows In the Mountains
by Rachel Cunningham, Circulation Supervisor
As the weather begins to tease at warmer afternoons and evening thunderstorms, the allure of spring draws me outdoors. It was always during this weather that our family would pack into our car for a several hour drive to the Rocky Mountains. A hint of the ranges would rise over the flat Eastern Colorado horizon until the smooth, hazy blue mounds transformed into jagged boulders above the tree line, still garnished with miles of snow along the peaks. Years later, I averted my eyes from a similar rocky drop while hiking to the top of Grays Peak. Sitting at the top of the mountain, I noted the uncountable peaks within my sightline and the slabs jutting out of the innumerable stones below, measuring the hikers on the trail below between my thumb and forefinger. We were in the shadow of nature’s enormity, a minor character in its million-year narrative. It’s this love of the beauty and danger of nature paired with a family history of rural places that has attracted me to Southern Noir. The Appalachian Mountains allow for more life and growth within their peaks than the Rockies to the west, creating the perfect setting.
Ron Rash is known for his novel “Serena”, which was adapted into a film with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. However, Rash also penned “Above the Waterfall”, a mystery narrated by the perspectives of an almost-retired sheriff, Les, and Locust Creek Park Ranger, Becky. In the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, Becky seeks nature and poetry as a form of therapy for her past traumas. Meanwhile, Les is entering his last week as sheriff before retirement. When trout from the nearby river are poisoned above the waterfall, suspicion is focused on local landowner, Gerald. However, Les is doubtful of Gerald’s involvement despite video evidence and his own desire to close the case quickly. As he digs deeper, Les uncovers an unsettling plot. “Above the Waterfall” contains rich descriptions of nature and wildlife. Rash’s scenes involving language, violence, drugs, or other challenging topics are mild. This novel is a good option for those interested in dipping their toes into the waters of Southern Noir. Although I wouldn’t tag this title as “cozy”, it is the coziest book I’ve read in this genre.
Taylor Brown takes readers to Howl Mountain in the 1950s for his novel “Gods of Howl Mountain”. The North Carolina mountain is humming with Eustace’s bootleg whiskey operation, giving himself the title of “King of the Mountain”. Back at home after the Korean War, Rory Docherty begins making runs for Eustace and becomes entangled with corrupt local law enforcement, the town’s snake handling church, FBI agents, and the preacher’s daughter, all while trying to unravel his mother’s mystery. Brown uses Rory’s grandmother, Maybelline “Granny Mae” Docherty, to reveal the immoral history of the mountain. Despite how powerless most women are in their society, Granny Mae wields her power as a local folk healer shrewdly. Granny Mae is a complex and well-developed character, and arguably, she is the hero of this novel. “Gods of Howl Mountain” has a touch of everything – history, mystery, romance, and action, making this an exciting read. This title includes language, violence, and sexual content, so it may not be suitable for all readers.
In North Georgia lies Bull Mountain, where the Burroughs family has built an empire through generations of men – first with moonshine, then marijuana, and now methamphetamine. With a timeline spanning from 1949 to 2015, readers follow the generations who rule the mountain. Clayton Burroughs is the first to deny this legacy, choosing to run for sheriff instead. When ATF Special Agent Simon Holly appears in Clayton’s office one Sunday morning with a plan to catch his target, Clayton must convince his brother Halford to give up the family business for an early retirement. Halford isn’t interested. Told between alternating perspectives and a nonlinear timeline, “Bull Mountain” knots together the lives of those on the mountain and the unfortunate few who get too close to it. This title also includes sensitive content, so it may not be suitable for all readers.
Unlike other historical fiction or thrillers, Southern Noir has a strong sense of place with rich descriptions of nature, firmly grounding the reader in the setting. Because of the small communities in these areas, it also typically includes intricate relationships between the gritty people who have lived there for generations. For more information about Rural Noir, Hick Lit, or Southern Noir, visit Novelist!