3.6 18
by Tom Franklin

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It's 1911 and the townsfolk of Old Texas, Alabama, have had enough. Every Saturday night for a year, E. O. Smonk has been destroying property, killing livestock, seducing women, cheating and beating men, all from behind the twin barrels of his Winchester 45-70 caliber over-and-under rifle. Syphilitic, consumptive, gouty, and goitered—an expert with explosives

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It's 1911 and the townsfolk of Old Texas, Alabama, have had enough. Every Saturday night for a year, E. O. Smonk has been destroying property, killing livestock, seducing women, cheating and beating men, all from behind the twin barrels of his Winchester 45-70 caliber over-and-under rifle. Syphilitic, consumptive, gouty, and goitered—an expert with explosives and knives—Smonk hates horses, goats, and the Irish, and it's high time he was stopped. But capturing old Smonk won't be easy—and putting him on trial could have shocking and disastrous consequences, considering the terrible secret the citizens of Old Texas are hiding.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
E.O. Smonk is an ugly, unwashed, murdering rapist who has terrorized the small town of Old Texas, Ala., for years. In 1911, the town summons Smonk to stand trial, and a nonstop blood-orgy of brutality and destruction is the result in Franklin's gloriously debauched second novel (following Hell at the Breech). After Smonk's goons assault the Old Texas courthouse and kill the town's menfolk, reformed former Smonk associate turned lawman Will McKissick pursues Smonk. Meanwhile, a posse of Christian deputies chase teenage whore Evavangeline through the Gulf Coast, but the girl is a skilled killer, too, and the trail of her victims spans the region. McKissick follows Smonk's trail out of and back into Old Texas, while Evavangeline drifts into the town, where all the children are dead except McKissick's 12-year-old son and the widows lay out their dead husbands on their dining tables. The town's sordid past, about to be exposed, involves a rabies-ravaged one-armed preacher, a rabid dog named Lazarus the Redeemer, incest and a church full of dead boys dressed in Sunday best. Fast-paced and unrelentingly violent, Franklin's western isn't for everyone, but readers looking for a strange and savage tale can't go wrong. (On sale Aug. 22) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Franklin's (Hell at the Breech) second novel is a hyperviolent, hyperfilthy, hypersexual though without being a smidgen erotic tall tale of a Western about outlaw E.O. Smonk and his last few days in the abominable town of Old Texas, AL, in 1911. Smonk is a sociopathic, murderous rapist whose only redeeming trait is his grim sense of humor. Starting with a trial that is supposed to be a lynching but turns into a cold-blooded massacre, the saga of Smonk plumbs new depths of depravity page after page. The converging plot thread follows the wanderings of killer whore Evavangeline, whose clients are so depraved you're glad when she kills them. Pursued by the cowardly Phail Walton and his (not-so) Christian deputies, Evavangeline makes her way, bloodbath by bloodbath, to a final incestuous encounter with Smonk in Old Texas. This tale, in which every man is a monster and every woman is a whore, a witch, or both, comes to an explosive (literally think a box of dynamite) climax that brings a strange sort of redemption to Evavangeline and to Walton. Recommended only for the strong of stomach. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/06.] Ken St. Andre, Phoenix P.L. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
No one is safe in a 19th-century Alabama town devastated by the Civil War, gripped by a hideously perverted religion and haunted by rabies. Maintaining the dark tone of his excellent first novel, Hell at the Breech (2003), Franklin goes for the gothic in a weirdly fascinating and minimally punctuated tale of evil personified. The nexus of it all seems to be E.O. Smonk, a syphilitic and (despite his resemblance to a snuff-dipping orangutan) sexually irresistible murderer, who opens the story by walking into a kangaroo court that the town of Old Texas has arranged for his trial and blowing away the mob ready to lynch him. Not that he was ever in any real danger. Smonk had stationed a backup team with a refined, brutally powerful machine gun outside the hotel-turned-courthouse; he had bribed the judge; he was armed to the teeth even after disposing of several sidearms at the courtroom door; the bailiff is a former sidekick. Smonk does suffer one loss: the mule he rode in on. The bailiff's young son William, paid to watch the beast, rides the mule away from the melee in panicked grief, believing that his father had been among those killed. William wanders until he takes up with Evavangeline, a teenaged whore with no last name who is being pursued by Christian Deputy Phail Walton. Captain Walton, a Philadelphian whose repressions have made him very nearly mad as a hatter, has somehow talked a troupe of men into joining his cause, an action they will find disastrous. All of them cross the path of the dying Smonk, who is on his own quest to find out why there are no children or dogs in Old Texas, and what the creepy widows have been up to. Horror and history rendered with gusto andbuckets of blood.
Times-Picayune (New Orleans)
“Franklin’s talent for the completely offbeat and outrageous illuminates a world that is at once vibrantly alive and completely human.”
Tampa Tribune
"Part western, part Southern gothic, yet wholly original, this is a beef jerky of a story […] full of flavor"
Entertainment Weekly
"[Smonk] mixes William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, and Deadwood’s David Milch, Franklin pulls off a unique Western saga."
San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
"A David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino codirection of Deadwood . . . a world where not one person knows an iota of goodness."
Philip Roth
"I am amazed at Tom Franklin’s power"
Time Magazines-Picayune (New Orleans)
"Franklin’s talent for the completely offbeat and outrageous illuminates a world that is at once vibrantly alive and completely human."
David Milch
"An edgy, quirky, bawdy look at the days of cowboys and shootouts, Smonk is the real deal."

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A Novel
By Tom Franklin

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Tom Franklin
All right reserved.

ISBN: 006084681X

Chapter One

The Trial

It was the eve of the eve of his death by murder and there was harmonica music on the air when E. O. Smonk rode the disputed mule over the railroad tracks and up the hill to the hotel where his trial would be. It was October the first of that year. It had been dry and dusty for six weeks and five days. The crops were dead. It was Saturday. Ten after three o'clock in the afternoon according to the shadows of the bottles on the bottle tree.

Amid the row of long nickering horsefaces at the rail Smonk slid off the mule into the sand and spat away his cigar stub and stood glaring among the animal shoulders at his full height of five and a quarter foot. He told a filthy blond boy holding a balloon to watch the mule, which had an English saddle on its back and an embroidered blanket from Bruges Belgium underneath. In a sheath stitched to the saddle stood the polished butt of the Winchester rifle with which, not half an hour earlier, Smonk had dispatched four of an Irishman's goats in their pen because the only thing he abhorred more than an Irish was an Irish goat. By way of brand the mule had a fresh .22 bullet hole through its left ear, same as Smonk's cows and pigs and hound dog did, even his cat.

That mule gits away, he toldthe boy, I'll brand ye balloon.

He struck a match with his thumbnail and lit another cigar. He noted there were no men on the porches, downstair or up, and slid the rifle from its sock and snicked the safety off. He backhanded dust from a mare's flank to get her the hell out of his way (they say he wouldn't walk behind a horse) and clumped up the steps into the balcony's shade and limped across the hotel porch, the planks groaning under his boots. The boy watched him: his immense dwarf shape, shoulders of a grizzly bear, that bushel basket of a head low and cocked, as if he was trying to determine the sex of something. His hands were wide as shovels and his fingers so long he could palm a man's skull but his lower half was smaller, thin horseshoe legs and little feet in their brand-new calf opera boots the color of chocolate, loose denim britches tucked in the tops. He wore a clean pressed white shirt and ruffled collar, suspenders, a black string tie with a pair of dice on the end and a tan duck coat. He was uncovered as usual--hats made his head sweat--and he wore the blue-lensed eyeglasses prescribed for sufferers of syphilis, which accounted him in its numbers. On a lanyard around his neck hung a whiskey gourd stoppered with a syrup cork.

He coughed.

Along with the Winchester he carried an ivory-handled walking cane with a sword concealed in the shaft and a derringer in the handle. He had four or five revolvers in various places within his clothing and cartridges clicking in his coat pockets and a knife in his boot. There were several bullet scars in his right shoulder and one in each forearm and another in his left foot. There were a dozen buckshot pocks peppered over the hairy knoll of his back and the trail of a knife scored across his belly. His left eye was gone a few years now, replaced by a white glass ball two sizes small. He had a goiter under his beard. He had gout, he had the clap, blood-sugar, neuralgia and ague. Malaria. The silk handkerchief balled in his pants pocket was blooded from the advanced consumption the doctor had just informed him he had.

You'll die from it, the doctor had said.

When? asked Smonk.

One of these days.

At the hotel door, he paused to collect his wind and glanced down behind him. Except for the boy slouching against a post with his balloon, an aired-up sheep stomach, there were no children to be seen, a more childless place you'd never find. Throughout town the whorish old biddies were pulling in shutters and closing doors, others hurrying across the street shadowed beneath their parasols, but every one of them peeping back over their shoulders to catch a gander at Smonk.

He pretended to tip a hat.

Then he noticed them--the two slickers standing across the road beside a buckboard wagon covered in a tarp. They were setting up the tripod legs of their camera and wore dandy-looking suits and shiny derbies.

Smonk, who could read lips, saw one say, There he is.

Inside the hotel the bailiff, who'd been blowing the harmonica, put it away and straightened his posture when he saw who it was coming and cleared his throat and announced it was no guns allowed in a courtroom.

This ain't a courtroom, Smonk said.

It is today by God, said the bailiff.

Smonk glanced out behind him as if he might leave, the hell with the farce of justice once and for all. But instead he handed the rifle over, barrels first, and as he laid one heavy revolver and then another on the whiskey keg the bailiff had for a desk, he looked down at the gaunt barefaced Scot in his overalls and bicycle cap pulled low, sitting on a wooden crate, the sideboard behind him jumbled with firearms deposited by those already inside.

Smonk studied the bailiff. I seen ye before.

Maybe ye did, the man said. Maybe I used to work as ye agent till ye sacked me from service and my wife run off after ye and cast me in such doldrums me and my boy Willie come up losing ever thing we had--land, house, barn, corn crib, still, crick. Ever blessed thing. Open up ye coat and show me inside there.

Smonk did. You lucky I didn't kill ye.

The bailiff pointed the rifle. That 'n too.


Excerpted from Smonk by Tom Franklin Copyright © 2006 by Tom Franklin. Excerpted by permission.
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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What People are saying about this

Philip Roth
“I am amazed at Tom Franklin’s power”
David Milch
“An edgy, quirky, bawdy look at the days of cowboys and shootouts, Smonk is the real deal.”

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