Crimes in Southern Indiana: Storiesby Frank Bill
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/i>/b>… See more details below
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 brinkand beyond. There is Scoot McCutchen, whose beloved wife falls terminally ill, leaving him with nothing to live forwhich 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.
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 GirouxCopyright © 2011 Frank Bill
All rights reserved.
CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA (Chapter One)Hill Clan Cross
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.
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I had the opportunity to read this in manuscript form. It's the kind of meth-fueled, backwoods nightmare I feel like I've been waiting my whole life for. Read it.
Here's one reason to know about Frank Bill. With his breathtaking first collection, "Crimes in Southern Indiana", he will instantly, deservedly ascend onto a stage of stunning Big Names. Reviewers will have their reasons and they'll be damn good ones. Bill shares the unexpected vision of Pinckney Benedict and Thom Jones. The sly wisdom of James Crumley and James Lee Burke. The hard-fought masculinity of Jim Harrison and Hemingway. The doped-up worlds of Palahniuk and both Thompsons, Hunter and Jim. The heart-stopping originality of Dorothy Allison. The sense of place of Woodrell, Larry Brown, Flannery O'Connor, and Sherwood Anderson. The sudden, consuming violence of Elmore Leonard and Cormac McCarthy. The deceptive lyricism of Ray Carver and Bonnie Jo Campbell. Or here's another. It's a near-certainty that "Crimes" will be on everyone's shortlist for awards come end of the year. Or how about the fact that every person with a subscription to Playboy or Esquire will be name-dropping him like a brick over the coming months? Honestly, none of that matters. You want to grab this book for the sheer pleasure of reading these stories. The rush of burred pages and nonstop action. The beauty of tales connected by laced ropes of blood - some spare as an empty jelly glass next to a bottle of white-label whiskey, others deep and so dark you'll be glad you've never lived anything like them, and all of them brutal, gunridden and bloodsoaked. Bill's stories offer a unique, fresh, ferocious look at a drug-fueled, explosive world of empty promises and dead ends. And while they have all the thrills and grip of great pulp fiction, they also have the lightning-strike clarity of more "literary" art, leaving us with the afterglow of a glimpse into our truly terrifying, modern heartland.
Blood feud poetry. Desperate situations where beat-down people stand on the line between what they know is wrong and sheer survival in a hardscrabble emotionally jagged landscape. Those uncomfortable photos in the middle of the newspaper showing a man with sunken sleep-bruised eyes and a couple column inches detailing the unfathomable things he's done. Staring into the abysmal latrine of humanity, it is easy to sink to nihilism, to embrace the banality of evil, but in Crimes in Southern Indiana, Frank Bill refuses to take the easy road. People beyond forgiveness seek mere understanding. Desires criss-cross and hurtle together like jalopies down a one lane dirt road. Anyone can write brutality. Giving it a dark but honest human heart takes guts and a keen sense of people, and this novel speaks volumes of messy truth. Favorites. Vengeance-fueled rampages like "Old Testament Wisdom." The broken gears of human machines, like in "The Need." Not a bad story in the bunch. I'd read an early version of "Officer Down (Tweakers)" and it is leaner and meaner here. Even the meth-heads get their due, and aren't mere boogeymen. One of the best debuts I've read. The best may be "Cold Hard Love," only because it teases us with the subject Bill's next novel, Donnybrook. Which like this book, will be one not to miss.
[This review was originally published at The Nervous Breakdown.] When you think of places where crime lurks, locations where you should keep the car rolling through stop signs, where you never stop to ask for directions, a few names may pop into your head. Maybe you think of Detroit or East St. Louis, Baltimore or Miami. It's time to add Corydon, Indiana, to that list, as well as the entire southern part of the state. In Frank Bill's violent, gut-wrenching, and heartfelt collection of short stories, Crimes in Southern Indiana, there is nowhere safe to hide-the criminals are happy to walk right in the front door pointing a shotgun in your face, spitting tobacco on the floor. A granddaughter is sold as a sex slave. A war veteran tries to forget the killings he committed out in the field as well as the abuse he inflicted on his family at home. Dogfights turn into moments of self-preservation and sudden morality. Family turns on itself while the police provide inadequate protection. All of this unfolds with a raw, unflinching portrayal of meth heads, delinquents, and lost souls searching for a way out. The stories are interlinked and overlapping, as it has to be in any small town, the hero in one story meeting his demise in another, the lawmaker in one tale becoming the criminal in the next. Early on we get a strong sense of what life what must be like in Corydon and the surrounding communities. In "All the Awful" we witness the sale of Audry by her grandfather, ironically named Able, into slavery, her young flesh an easy commodity to move on the black market: "One of the man's hands gripped Audry's wrists above her head. Forced them to the ground. She bucked her pelvis up. Wanted him off of her. The other hand groped the rounded shapes beneath her soiled wifebeater. Her eyes clasped. Held tears. The man's tobacco-stained lips and bourbon breath dragged against her neck." Suffice it to say that Audry has a bit of spite and spirit left, unwilling to succumb to the fate that has been dealt to her. It's a quick lesson on family and the men that inhabit the town she lives in, something she'll surely never forget. The fact that meth is a part of the lifestyle in Crimes in Southern Indiana is no shock-rural communities fall victim to the widespread drug, cheap to sell but dangerous to manufacture, explosions riddling the countryside and across the southlands. Eager to show both sides of the coin in his depiction of drug use and prosecution, Frank Bill takes on the mindset of the addict in "The Need," painting a vivid picture of an addled mind: "Speeding into the gravel curve, Wayne lost control of the Ford Courier, stomped the gas instead of the brake. Gunned the engine and met the wilderness of elms head-on. His head split the windshield, creating warm beads down his forehead, while flashbacks of an edge separating flesh and a screaming female amped through his memory. Blood flaked off as Wayne balled his hands into fists, remembering the need he could no longer contain." [For the rest of this review go to The Nervous Breakdown.]
Okay, I am an older woman, and at first I thought to myself, "This is a guy's book," but within two pages I was hooked. These are great stories. Frank Bill is a true talent and wordsmith. All the stories and characters are rough around the edges just as they should be, and every single tale grabs you and keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Not your typical book club pick,this book reads like a Greek Tragedy set in the second growth woods of down, but not quite out, Southern Indiana. Survival is the goal & the author delivers stories in which it's hard to decide who to cheer on. Vivid images & compelling characters kept me reading!
If you like dark and gritty tales, then this book is a must read.
Very gritty & savagely written. The details of the characters & the interaction between them all is exceptional. Every character in the book has some fatal flaw, whether obvious or not. I couldn't put this book down, read it in 3 days.