Crimes in Southern Indiana: Stories

Crimes in Southern Indiana: Stories

4.6 15
by Frank Bill

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A ferocious debut that puts Frank Bill's southern Indiana on the literary map next to Cormac McCarthy's eastern Tennessee and Daniel Woodrell's Missouri Ozarks

Crimes in Southern Indiana is the most blistering, vivid, flat-out fearless debut to plow into American literature in recent years. Frank Bill delivers what is both a wake-up call and a

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A ferocious debut that puts Frank Bill's southern Indiana on the literary map next to Cormac McCarthy's eastern Tennessee and Daniel Woodrell's Missouri Ozarks

Crimes in Southern Indiana is the most blistering, vivid, flat-out fearless debut to plow into American literature in recent years. Frank Bill delivers what is both a wake-up call and a gut punch. Welcome to heartland America circa right about now, when the union jobs and family farms that kept the white on the picket fences have given way to meth labs, backwoods gunrunners, and bare-knuckle brawling.

Bill's people are pressed to the brink--and beyond. There is Scoot McCutchen, whose beloved wife falls terminally ill, leaving him with nothing to live for--which doesn't quite explain why he brutally murders her and her doctor and flees, or why, after years of running, he decides to turn himself in. In the title story, a man who has devolved from breeding hounds for hunting to training them for dog-fighting crosses paths with a Salvadoran gangbanger tasked with taking over the rural drug trade, but who mostly wants to grow old in peace. As Crimes in Sourthern Indiana unfolds, we witness the unspeakable, yet are compelled to find sympathy for the depraved.

Bill's southern Indiana is haunted with the deep, authentic sense of place that recalls the best of Southern fiction, but the interconnected stories bristle with the urban energy of a Chuck Palahniuk or a latter-day Nelson Algren and rush with the slam-bang plotting of pulp-noir crime writing à la Jim Thompson. Bill's prose is gritty yet literary, shocking, and impossible to put down. A dark evocation of the survivalist spirit of the working class, this is a brilliant debut by an important new voice.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Bill's resolutely unsentimental debut collection lays bare working-class strife, exposing atrocities that are at once violently harrowing and desperately human. Pitchfork and Darnel Crase, the two brothers in "Hill Clan Cross," exact cruel revenge on their young kinfolk who've been busy skimming their drugs to sell on the side. In "These Old Bones," the boys' mother murders their father once she discovers he'd pimped out their granddaughter, Audry. Elsewhere, in "Officer Down (Tweakers)," Moon, a police officer whose wife leaves him, kills his estranged best friend who'd become involved in the meth business; in a companion story, menace waits for Ina, his cheating wife. The title story features more downtrodden, reckless men who bet on dogfights with embittered Afghanistan war veterans, then lose and commit even more desperate acts. Readers who enjoy coal-black rural noir are in for a sadistic treat: flowing like awful mud and written in pulpy style, these stories paint a grisly portrait of the author's homeland. You might want to have your brass knuckles handy when reading. (Sept.)
Library Journal
This gritty, violent debut collection begins rather like pulp genre fiction then deepens into something much more significant and powerful. Set in a dilapidated, seedy, nightmare version of southern Indiana, complete with meth labs, dog-fighting rings, and all manner of substance abuse, the stories are connected by recurring characters. The collection opens with vignettes focused mainly on carnage. But as readers go deeper, the stories lengthen, with Bill turning his attention to psychology and character development and bringing the community to life in fascinating ways. Many of the male protagonists are combat veterans, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and many of the characters—women as well as men—solve problems through lethal violence. Take Scoot McCutchen, who murders the wife he loves when she falls terminally ill. Bill's characters live in a fractured world where there are no good jobs, not much respect for life, and not much hope. It's a bleak, hard-boiled vision of America. VERDICT Recommended for fans of literary fiction but not for the faint of heart.—Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT
Kirkus Reviews

A dark, hard-boiled debut consisting of interconnected short stories.

No doubt about it, Bill can write. His sentences are terse and clipped: You'll feel as though some backwoods cracker has taken a break from cookin' meth or beatin' his wife to tell you these stories. It's a book without heroes, just a few reasonably decent people surrounded by others you'd want to scrape off the sole of your shoe. Redeeming qualities are rare in the characters, who have colorful names like Knee High, Pine Box and Pitchfork. Oh, and Dodo. Women are raped, brains are splattered and faces are sliced. A man gets his grandson whacked, bullet to the head, to teach that boy a lesson. Cross your kin, you wind up in Hill Clan Cross Cemetery, "where bad deals were made good and lessons were buried deep." A woman goads her husband to kill her father, who's always called her a whore. A guy skims cash from MS-13, Mara Salvatrucha, the most dangerous gang anywhere. A dicey idea at best. A woman leaves her husband, gets gang-raped, maybe gets even, maybe doesn't. Readers will be rapt or repelled by the fast pace and near-constant violence that makes James Lee Burke's books look like kiddy lit. The stories are well told, though, and will get the readers' adrenaline flowing, maybe the bile rising, too. Some characters appear in several of the stories, but the one constant thread is the setting. Ordinarily this might work well, but this collection would have benefited from having a central character the reader could root for. Most of the characters are simply bone-marrow bad, and their stories leave an acrid taste about the human condition.

Aficionados of crime writing likely will love the stories and their crackling excitement. Others, if they even finish the book, will at least appreciate the well-crafted prose.

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Crimes in Southern Indiana


By Frank Bill

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2011 Frank Bill
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-9515-3


Pitchfork and Darnel burst through the scuffed motel door like two barrels of buckshot. Using the daisy-patterned bed to divide the dealers from the buyers, Pitchfork buried a .45-caliber Colt in Karl’s peat moss unibrow with his right hand. Separated Irvine’s green eyes with the sawed-off. 12-gauge in his left, pushed the two young men away from the mattress, stopped them at a wall painted with nicotine, and shouted, “Drop the rucks, Karl!”

Karl’s towline arms contorted in a broken epileptic rhythm. Dropped the two heavy military backpacks to the carpet. Irvine stood with his chest rising and falling in a hyperventilated rush and, sounding like a southern Indiana hick, he said, “This here is our deal.”

Behind Pitchfork, big brother Darnel kicked shut the motel door and corralled the two buyers to the right of the bed, into the nightstand, slapped a leather blackjack down onto Dodo Kirby’s widow’s peak. Helped his knees discover the cigarette-holed carpet. Dodo’s little brother Uhl stepped forward, and his checkered teeth of bad dental mouthed, “What the shit, man, you can’t—” Darnel obliged Uhl with the blackjack. Beat his nose into chips of flint. Mashed his lips into blueberry stains. Slid the blackjack into his bibs, pulled a small coil of fence wire from his other pocket. Shook his head and said, “Can’t what? We never gave the go for this deal. We’s taking back what’s ours.”

Pitchfork and Darnel had found several of their storage drums coming up short in the weight department after they’d been scaled for a customer who’d rescaled them and was none too happy. They’d their suspicions of who’d skimmed the dope, considering the hands to be trusted were a select few. They passed the word to the Harrison County sheriff, Elmo Sig, who’d been on their payroll for the past ten years, letting them use the only motel in town to do their trade. The man also gave the DEA leads in other counties, detoured their noses out of his own. Sig had his own eyes and ears, who went by the alias AK, running through the surrounding counties. AK delivered some chatter that he’d overheard about two twenty-somethings with some primo weed. Needed to turn it to cash quick. Wanted to set up a deal at the same motel where they’d watched Darnel and Pitchfork make theirs.

Darnel kneeled down. Pushed a knee into Uhl’s blue flannel spine. Started weaving tight figure eights with the wire through Uhl’s wrists. Pulled a pair of snips from his back pocket. Cut the wire.

Sweat bathed the garden of red and pus-white acne bumps across Karl’s forehead as he yelled, “We helped harvest, dry, weigh, and package them crops when you all was busy! We deserve a piece of the profit.”

Pitchfork’s briar-scarred right arm pulled the Colt away from Karl’s brow an inch. Thudded the barrel into his forehead. Karl hollered, “Fuck!” Pitchfork told the boy, “You deserve what you earn.”

Behind Pitchfork on the other side of the bed, Darnel finished with Dodo’s wrists. Stood up. Told Karl, “You’d been a smear on your mama’s leg I hadn’t wanted me a boy to carry on my line. Course, I don’t know if you deserved that.”

Darnel stepped toward Karl and Irvine, said, “Turn around. Tired of lookin’ at all your stupid.” Karl and Irvine turned around, faced the yellowing wall. Pitchfork slid the Colt into his waist. Held the sawed-off down at his side. Shook his bone-shaved skull, told the boys, “Two shit birds didn’t even check the parkin’ lot for extra men. This time a night they coulda rushed you like we did. Hell, we’s sittin’ over off in the shadows in the ’68.”

Karl turned to Irvine and said, “Told you we shoulda checked the damn lot.”

Pitchfork stepped away from the boys, watched Darnel coil the wire over and under Irvine’s wrists, and Darnel asked Irvine, “Who vouched for these two scrotums?”

From the other side of the room Karl whimpered, “Eugene Lillpop.”

Darnel laughed his carburetor laugh. “That inbred shit has got one hand in his pants, the other up his mama’s skirt. His word ain’t worth the phlegm he lubes his palm with.”

From the floor, with hair matted to his face, Uhl whimpered and spit from swelled lips turning purple. Talked in his toughest tone. “Sons of bitches best let us be. Know who our ol’ man is?”

Pitchfork stood disgusted by Dodo’s question. “Sure I know backstabbin’ Able Kirby. Shoulda been buried beneath an outhouse for rattin’ out Willie Dodson years back. Course you all run in a different county. Shit like that don’t fly ’round here, your kind is used for fertilizer.”

Uhl coughed and protested, “Our daddy’s a good man. Didn’t never rat Willie out.”

Darnel finished with Karl’s wrists. Put the wire and snips back in his pocket. Grabbed the two rucks Karl had carried in. Slung one over each shoulder. Smelled that honey-thick odor. Told Uhl, “Son, I know for a fact it was your ol’ man ’cause Willie worked for me. Crossed counties to meet with your daddy and some of his people way down in Orange Holler. When the shit went down your daddy walked away clean as cotton.”

Pitchfork laid the sawed-off on the floor. Opened Uhl and Dodo’s ruck. Reached in and dug through the bundles of bills, all Benjamins banded around identical-sized blank cutouts on the bottoms. Then he felt the weight of steel, pulled out two nickel-plated .38 revolvers. Looked at the boys and said, “You two dick stains didn’t even check to see if they’s packin’ heat or the right amount of cash? Fuckin’ greenies.”

Darnel dug his hands into Karl’s and Irvine’s hair. Told them, “Could at least used a different motel room or another county. Don’t matter no way. You two got a lesson to learn.” Then he guided them to the door by their greasy heads of hair. Opened it.

Pitchfork put the two .38s back in the leather ruck. Slung it over his shoulder. Grabbed the sawed-off. Pulled Dodo to his feet. Then Uhl, who begged, “Let us go. We won’t say shit.”

Pitchfork stared through Uhl and questioned, “Keys?” Confused, Uhl said, “Keys?” “Motherfucker, how’d you get that rape van out yonder, hot-wire it?” Uhl stuttered, “F-F-F-Front pocket.” Pitchfork patted Uhl’s front, pulled the van keys from the pocket, sneered, and told Uhl, “And we know you ain’t gonna say shit ’cause where we gonna take you, won’t nobody hear a word.”

Darnel loaded Uhl, Dodo, and the ruck of dollar bills into Irvine and Karl’s Impala. Pitchfork loaded the boys and the rucks of marijuana into the bed of his ’68. Left Uhl and Dodo’s van with the keys in the ignition, payment beneath the driver’s seat for Sheriff Elmo to scrap over at Medford Malone’s salvage yard. Then they drove to the Hill Clan Cross Cemetery. A place where bad deals were made good and lessons were buried deep.

The two vehicles were silent except for the crack and pop of night air cooling the engine blocks. Headlights from the Impala and ’68 Chevy outlined the profiles of Dodo and Uhl, their features now wet and swollen hues of yellow and purple turning darker with the night. Blood peeled like three-day-old biscuits. The shovels they’d used to dig the eight-by-eight grave left their hands unsteady at their sides as they stood looking down into their handiwork.

Pitchfork stood behind Dodo and Uhl, the .45 pressed into one head, the sawed-off into the other. Karl and Irvine kneeled off to the left, taking in the three silhouettes. Behind them, Darnel made his cigarette cherry with a final inhalation as he flicked it to the ground and told Pitchfork, “It’s time.”

Pitchfork asked the two buyers, “How old you say you was?”

Dodo slobbered, “We didn’t.” Hoping the nightmare would end and they’d be released, he said, “I’s thirty-five, Uhl’s—”

Pitchfork cut him off. “Well, least you ain’t gotta worry about cancer or achin’ bones like your mama.” Then he squeezed the .45’s trigger. Dodo’s skull exploded into the beams of light, disappeared into the air. His body thudded forward into the grave.

With Uhl’s ears ringing, his crotch found warm fear as he screamed, “No, no! Oh God, please! Please!”

Pitchfork said, “Ain’t you the whiniest chickenshit I ever did hear.”

Darnel said, “His ol’ man was the same way, don’t you remember that time over at Galloway’s fish fry? Grabbed Galloway’s daughter’s ass. Got all wet-eyed when Galloway was gonna stomp him into cornmeal.”

Pitchfork said, “Sure I remember. Galloway’s daughter was only fourteen at the time.” He told Uhl, “Your ol’ man’s ’bout a sick son of a bitch.”

Uhl’s face contorted. If skin could chatter, his would have. He said, “Let me go. I can pay triple.”

Pitchfork growled, “With what? You knock over an armored vehicle full of one-dollar bills?” Shook his head. “Ain’t just about money. It’s about blood.”

From behind Karl and Irvine, Darnel said, “These two boys need to know they can’t steal their own kin’s means to provide. Two of you was packin’ heat, I know you’d have done somethin’ just like this to them in that motel room we hadn’t showed up. Tonight everyone’s got a lesson to be learned.”

Karl and Irvine watched with their faces damp. Their wrists were free but aching from the wire that had cut into their skin.

Uhl’s weakness turned brave as he spun around, knocked the sawed-off out of Pitchfork’s left hand, only to have the .45 add another split of pain to his head. Uhl fell flat and mumbled, “You bastard.” Pitchfork pressed his boot down into Uhl’s neck, pointed the pistol at his head, said, “Didn’t think you had any fight in you, kinda impressed.” Then he pulled the trigger. Uhl’s complexion disappeared across the soil. Pitchfork slid the .45 into his waistband, kneeled down, and rolled Uhl’s body into the grave.

New tears warmed Karl’s and Irvine’s cheeks. Pitchfork stepped away from the grave and sat on the Impala’s hood.

Darnel’s hands gripped Karl’s and Irvine’s sweaty hair. Pulled them to their feet. The boys’ insides tightened while their minds burned with a revelation: never steal from your father and uncle’s harvest to sell on the side, because in the end, whether it’s spilled or related, blood is blood.

Stopping the boys in front of the grave, Darnel reached into his pocket and gripped the Colt. Raised it. Dropped Irvine, then Karl, in quick succession. Listened to them hit the bottom of the grave.

To Darnel’s right, Pitchfork leaned off the car hood and asked, “Think they broke anything?”

Darnel shoved the pistol into his pocket, turned and walked over to Pitchfork, said, “Hope they did.”

The ’68’s truck door squeaked. Pitchfork reached inside, pulled a couple of iced bottles of Falls City from a cooler. Handed one to Darnel, asked, “How long you think it’ll take ’fore they wake up?”

Darnel pulled a chipped red Swiss Army knife from his pocket, used the bottle opener. “Don’t know, but we got plenty beer till they do.”

Taking the opener from Darnel, Pitchfork said, “Just hope they learned their lesson.”

Darnel turned the bottle of beer up and crystallized foam burned his throat like acid as he swallowed, then he said, “Yeah, I’d hate we had to kill our only two boys.”

CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA Copyright © 2011 by Frank Bill


Excerpted from Crimes in Southern Indiana by Frank Bill. Copyright © 2011 Frank Bill. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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