We’ve had to wait three years for a sequel to Tom Bouman’s exquisite, mesmerizing debut Dry Bones in the Valley (2014), which won an Edgar Award for best first novel among a host of other accolades, but at last we’re back alongside Officer Henry Farrell on his beat among the backwoods and byways of rural Pennsylvania.
Farrell is having a trouble-filled summer in Wild Thyme. While he’d rather be hunting turkey, drinking IPAs, and playing his fiddle, instead he’s busy dealing with the arrival of heroin, a surge in burglaries, and an adulterous fling from which he can’t seem to extract himself. When local handyman Kevin O’Keeffe’s drug-addled girlfriend disappears, and O’Keeffe gives a rambling semi-confession to maybe shooting a man, Farrell’s life gets even more complicated. He’s pulled in all sorts of directions by the various powers in his community as he tries to sort out the truth. His investigations take him across the state border to the backcountry equivalent of vice-filled back alleyways.
Fateful Mornings is an interesting, at times frustrating, read. Bouman’s elegant prose and knack for evoking backcountry life in vivid detail is again on show, but this sophomore effort lacks the tension and narrative drive of his debut. Dry Bones in the Valley earned comparisons to rural noir masters like John Hart and James Lee Burke, but in Fateful Mornings, Bouman veers more toward James Sallis territory, with formless and meandering plotting, in among lots of lovely description and characterization. He doesn’t quite, yet, have Sallis’ touch for making that work, but there’s still plenty of quality here.