Hell at the Breech

Hell at the Breech

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by Tom Franklin

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In 1897, an aspiring politician is mysteriously murdered in the rural area of Alabama known as Mitcham Beat. His outraged friends -- —mostly poor cotton farmers -- form a secret society, Hell-at-the-Breech, to punish the townspeople they believe responsible. The hooded members wage a bloody year-long campaign of terror that culminates in a massacre where the

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In 1897, an aspiring politician is mysteriously murdered in the rural area of Alabama known as Mitcham Beat. His outraged friends -- —mostly poor cotton farmers -- form a secret society, Hell-at-the-Breech, to punish the townspeople they believe responsible. The hooded members wage a bloody year-long campaign of terror that culminates in a massacre where the innocent suffer alongside the guilty. Caught in the maelstrom of the Mitcham war are four people: the aging sheriff sympathetic to both sides; the widowed midwife who delivered nearly every member of Hell-at-the-Breech; a ruthless detective who wages his own war against the gang; and a young store clerk who harbors a terrible secret.

Based on incidents that occurred a few miles from the author's childhood home, Hell at the Breech chronicles the events of dark days that led the people involved to discover their capacity for good, evil, or for both.

Editorial Reviews

USA Today
In Hell at the Breech, Franklin has cleverly woven history and fiction, using detail as a tool to shape his plot. He also makes his characters rise up from the pages as if they were there with you.

Along with breathtaking descriptions of Mitcham Beat's scenery (you can practically feel the cotton buds beneath your fingertips and smell the pine in the air), Franklin does what Harper Lee did in To Kill a Mockingbird; He lets his set of quirky characters run the story while he focuses on the repercussions of his characters' curiosity and age.

Hell at the Breech is an impressive novel that should catapult Franklin into the big leagues. — Nickolas Thomas

The Washington Post
Franklin's pungent rendering of place and character, his perfect selection of the convincing detail, is what makes his work so compelling. He knows the grit, detritus and psychology of life in the rural world, is utterly convincing in his renditions of violence, yet responds to nature with a near poetry of appreciation. In this powerful novel Franklin shows that though he has learned well from splendid sources he has become something of his own, and Hell at the Breech is the proof. — Daniel Woodrell
Publishers Weekly
This immensely accomplished novel by the author of the Edgar Award-winning short story collection Poachers is based on a real-life feud in the 1890s that pitted the underclass-poor, mostly white sharecroppers-of Clarke County, Ala., against the land-owning gentry who could and did control their fate. But that simple summary does not do justice to the complex and incredibly violent events that shook the community. The seeds of the violent uprising are planted when Macky Burke, a poor, white teenage orphan living with his grandmother, the widow Gates, accidentally shoots local merchant Arch Bedsole during a holdup. Arch's enraged cousin, Quincy "Tooch" Bedsole, a down-at-the-heels farmer, cultivates those seeds with a mixture of resentment, greed and a desire for vengeance. He forms the "Hell-at-the-Breech" gang, made up of criminals and struggling white tenant farmers who but for their guns are nearly as powerless as the former slaves they compete with for work. Hell-at-the-Breech terrorizes Clarke County, exacting frontier justice (and cash) from the exploitative landowners, driving black sharecroppers out of the county and menacing the white farmers who are too law-abiding to join their ranks. Fighting the outbreak of violence is Sheriff Billy Waite, an essentially good man trying to keep the peace and administer justice in a lawless world. Despite an unremitting catalogue of violence, this gory book is a pleasure to read for its clean, unexpected turns of phrase (in a cotton field, "each tuft [is] white as a senator's eyebrow"); the laconic humor of its characters ("Rumors fly out of Mitcham Beat like hair in a catfight"); and vibrant, complex characters who spring from the pages. Franklin may have used history as a starting point, but he imagines the events in human terms, creating a book that transmutes historical fact into something much more powerful, dramatic and compelling. (May) Forecast: Poachers was a widely acclaimed collection, but Franklin's first novel is a breakout work. With Cold Mountain-like period appeal, fast-paced plotting, and Morrow's muscle behind it-Franklin will embark on an 11-city author tour-the book has sleeper hit potential. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
When a storekeeper campaigning for the state legislature is assassinated, Mitcham Beat is swept by a wave of violence that includes lynchings and shootings, barn burnings, and robberies. A gang of hooded men known as the Hell-at-the-Breech gang is terrorizing the community, and the only man to stop them is an aging sheriff ready to retire with his whiskey bottle. It sounds like the wild, wild West, but Franklin, whose short story "Poachers" won an Edgar Award, has taken a little-known event in Alabama history, the Mitcham Beat War, and transformed it into a Faulknerian tale of bloody revenge and vigilante justice. In 1897, rural Clarke County is a society divided between impoverished, mostly white tenant farmers and the middle-class townspeople and merchants who exploit them. After Arch Bedsole, their candidate, is ambushed, the farmers, led by Arch's cousin Tooch, decide to mete out rough justice. Watching this is Sheriff Billy Waite and 16-year-old Mack Burke, who works in Tooch's store and whose brother has joined the gang. Franklin's dark and gritty first novel is not for the faint of heart; the brutal violence visited upon humans (and animals) is gory and feral, very much like the films of Sam Peckinpah. And women don't have much of a place in this world except as whores or as wives. For larger Southern fiction collections.-Wilda Williams, "Library Journal" Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Nightriders seize control of a dark corner of Alabama in a history-based first novel. Clean, unpretentious language laid down in masterly fashion propels Franklin’s (stories: Poachers, 1999) reconstruction of impoverished tenant farmers taking the law, or lack thereof, into their own hands at the end of the 19th century. Their territory is Mitcham Beat, a forlorn section of Clarke county that Sheriff Billy Waite would be just as happy to leave to its own dark management or turn over to his successor in a couple of years when he retires. The few middle-class families that own the cotton farms in Mitcham Beat treat their tenant farmers as ruthlessly as the worst slaveholders in the not-so-remote Old South ever did, and the badly squeezed farmers haven’t a hope of escape from their lives. But Sheriff Waite can no longer ignore the situation in this territory laying the other side of a dense, snake-ridden forest from the more civilized part of the county. Desperate farmers have allied themselves with plain old criminals to form the Hell-at-the-Breech gang, an alliance that will run the few remaining black families out of the area, murder the farmers who openly oppose the gang, and render the overlords impotent. Watching the worst of the action from the front row is 16-year-old Mack Burke, an orphan raised with his older brother William by Widow Gates, the county midwife. Mack and William accidentally set the gang on its murderous path when their bungled midnight holdup of one of the few decent souls in Mitcham Beat led to his death and thence to Mack’s unpaid indenture to Tooch Bedsole, the gang’s mastermind. Goaded by his self-righteous cousin Oscar, the county judge, Sheriff Waite ridesreluctantly through the forest to sort things out. Historical fiction as smooth and relentless as the darkest Elmore Leonard. First-rate. Agent: Nat Sobel/Sobel Weber Associates

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