A Southern Independent Booksellers Assocation Bestseller!
“A fresh, authentic, and eloquent new voice in American fiction.” - Robert Morgan, New York Times bestselling author of Gap Creek
In Gods of Howl Mountain, award-winning author Taylor Brown explores a world of folk healers, whiskey-runners, and dark family secrets in the high country of 1950s North Carolina.
Bootlegger Rory Docherty has returned home to the fabled mountain of his childhood - a misty wilderness that holds its secrets close and keeps the outside world at gunpoint. Slowed by a wooden leg and haunted by memories of the Korean War, Rory runs bootleg whiskey for a powerful mountain clan in a retro-fitted '40 Ford coupe. Between deliveries to roadhouses, brothels, and private clients, he lives with his formidable grandmother, evades federal agents, and stokes the wrath of a rival runner.
In the mill town at the foot of the mountains - a hotbed of violence, moonshine, and the burgeoning sport of stock-car racing - Rory is bewitched by the mysterious daughter of a snake-handling preacher. His grandmother, Maybelline “Granny May” Docherty, opposes this match for her own reasons, believing that "some things are best left buried." A folk healer whose powers are rumored to rival those of a wood witch, she concocts potions and cures for the people of the mountains while harboring an explosive secret about Rory’s mother - the truth behind her long confinement in a mental hospital, during which time she has not spoken one word. When Rory's life is threatened, Granny must decide whether to reveal what she knows...or protect her only grandson from the past.
With gritty and atmospheric prose, Taylor Brown brings to life a perilous mountain and the family who rules it.
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
TAYLOR BROWN grew up on the Georgia coast. He has lived in Buenos Aires, San Francisco, and the mountains of western North Carolina. His fiction has appeared in more than twenty publications, he is the recipient of the Montana Prize in Fiction, and was a finalist in both the Machigonne Fiction Contest and the Doris Betts Fiction Prize. He is the author of Fallen Land (2016) and The River of Kings (2017); Gods of Howl Mountain is his third novel. He lives in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Read an Excerpt
HOWL MOUNTAIN, NORTH CAROLINA FALL 1952
The machine started at dusk, headlights slashing their way down the old switchbacks that ribbed the mountain's slopes, thunder and echo of thunder vaulting through the ridges and hollers on every side. The road sawed down out of the high country, angling against valleys welled with darkness, past ridges hewn by dynamite, at times following the pale sinews of logging roads that lashed these hills half a century before. It poured ever east, the motor thrumming long miles through the darkening country of the foothills, the machine leaving in its wake a ghost of dust that settled on mailboxes and ranging cattle and tobacco fields already reaped. The road fell and fell again, surrendering to the speed of the machine, the fire of the engine, while stars wheeled out over the land.
The long bends unwound before the car's nose, the roadside produce stands and billboards and barns big enough to hide the cars of badged men. The road crested a rise and the land lay nearly naked against the sky, vast and blue. The ragged lights of the mill town burned in the distance, borne up on the swells of the Piedmont. The town of Gumtree. Soon the road was humming, paved, plunging through great stands of hardwoods. The mills rose long and hulking on their bluff over the town, pouring black smoke from their many stacks, like ocean liners on a sea of earth. Window after window brightly lit, as if people were having fun in there, a party or a ball. Men and women came down out of the mountains to toil all hours in the heat of those lint-blown rooms, making socks and hose. Second shift ended at ten o'clock. The workers would emerge coughing and white-dusted from those brick bowels like ghost-people, ready for a nip of the hot.
The machine crossed the dam into town. The valley had been flooded for power two decades before; the dam discharged its row of flat white waterfalls under the moon. The car rounded the town square, the big motor rattling the darkened storefronts like man-brought thunder. There was the grocery, the pharmacy, the five-and-dime. The jeweler, the shoe shop, the hardware store. The places where the mill-hands bought on credit, the payments deducted from their wages. The machine drove on, the working neighborhoods assembling before its hood, the low little mill-owned houses huddled close with square, close-cropped yards. Homes so narrow a man could shoot a shotgun and hit every room. Some had. The car drove between them and past them, out into the edges of town where the road descended slowly, gradually, toward the lake.
End-of-the-Road, they called it. The last vestige of town before it was swallowed underwater. Shothouses and bawdyhouses reared out of the bottomland trees, houses for anything a body might want. Their windows a sickly yellow, flickering with shadows. A place for a drink and a fight, a strange bed, strange stars shooting through strange skies if a man dared look. Past that, the road daggered into the depths. Down there was the valley of old, where people had lived so long before the mills came, hungry for power. There were cabins down there, it was said, open-doored to the fishes, their heart-pine floors drowned and cold. There were trees, stunted and lifeless, wavering in the depths as if brushed by slow-motion wind. The bones of land creatures riddled the depths, inhabitants given no warning of the coming flood. The clap of axes and stammer of engines did not carry the weight ofthunder or bruised skies. Not yet. Some mean-tempered old tobacco croppers were said to have stayed on their lands when the water came, to spite the government, but most doubted it. It was easy to doubt it all, the lake so flat and calm, a thing whose secrets would never surface.
The first order of the night was a broken-down bungalow with barred windows, the siding curly-cued as if someone had taken a putty knife to it. An indention in the roof housed a dark pool of old rainwater. The lawn was redchurned with tire tracks. Beat-up sedans sat willy-nilly in the grass. Slouching figures stood in line before the kitchen window, their shoulders showered in what looked like flour. Coins glinted in their hands.
Twenty-five cents a shot.
Their eyes were wide when the machine — a Ford coupe — rumbled past them, heading to the back of the house. It parked and the driver climbed out, his face hidden beneath an ancient black bowler hat. He knocked on the door and heard them unbarring it from the inside, the clack after clack of deadbolts unlocked.
The door opened. A white man in a stained apron stepped out. Fat. His face and hair had an unwholesome sheen. The stoop trembled beneath him as he descended.
"Thought you weren't coming," he said. "Revenuers?" "None tonight," said Rory.
The man shrugged and handed him a wad of bills. Rory unlocked the trunk.
With each stop the lake drew closer, the road ever sliding toward the blank darkness beyond the trees. With each stop the patrons were drunker, meaner. Some of them who got this deep down the road, they didn't come back.
Granny May held a match to the end of her corncob pipe. Her cheeks hollowed, her chest swelling with smoke. She held a double lungful tickling in her breast. There was no harsh sting, as with tobacco. She rocked back and unhinged her jaw, releasing a blue ghost of smoke into the dawn. The world lay wet before her, dark, carrying the last bruises of night. There were the mountains, ridged like crumbling battlements, and the dewy meadow of her home.
She squinted down her nose, eyeing the tree in the yard. This tree, lone survivor of the blight, stood as centerpiece of all she surveyed from her porch. The others of its kind, chestnuts, had once covered these mountains, the bark of their trunks deeply furrowed, age-twisted like the strands of giant steel cables. Their leaves sawtoothed, golden this time of year, when the falling nuts fattened the beasts of the land, sweetening their meat. That army of hardwoods had fallen, victims of death-black cankers that starved and toppled them. Some exotic fungus had slipped in through wounds in their bark, the work of antlers or claws or penknives. This tree stood alone in the meadow, crowned high against the impending light.
A spirit tree.
Multicolored glass bottles, too many to count, dangled from the branches on tied strings. The evils come skulking over the far hills, out of the lightless hollers and dry wells — the bottles captured such spirits. Contained them. Kept them out of the house, out of her grandson's dreams and heart. When the wind came sawing across the meadow, you could hear them moaning in their bottles, trapped. The spirits were mean, she thought, but they weren't very smart.
The first car came rocking up the drive just after sunup. It was a fancy coupe in green, a low-slung Hudson that chugged in the dawn, sized like something that moved in herds. A girl got out from the passenger side. She had a heavy shawl clutched over her shoulders, piled on like a burden. The boy driving the car sat hunched behind the wheel, scowling. He didn't cut the engine. The girl stood at the bottom of the steps.
"Morning, ma'am. Are you Maybelline Docherty? Granny May?"
"I am. What is it I can do for you?"
The girl looked back at the car smoking in the yard.
"That's Cooley Muldoon," she said. "He's engaged to a girl over in Linville? We, we had us a accident in the car last night."
Granny May squinted at the rumbling machine. The new sun glowed on the glass, shivered on the hood. Not a scratch on the paint.
The girl held out her hands.
"In the ... backseat of it," she said.
"Ah," said Granny.
"People say you make the moon tea?"
"Come sit a spell, child. I got some already steeping. Seems I knew you were coming."
The girl took a seat in the other rocker and Granny shuffled inside, quiet-footed, as if not to wake the yet-empty house. The pot sat on the woodstove, issuing the faintest curl of steam. Inside, a concoction of pennyroyal and tansy and other herbs, a brew passed down from the wood-witches of old. It could kill if it wasn't mixed right. She got down one of the mugs standing on the shelfboard. She had eyed the girl close, to see what size to pour.
Granny puffed her pipe as the girl drank the tea. The boy was still sitting behind the wheel of the car, now and again raising a pint bottle to his lips.
"Didn't he have a rubber?"
The girl held the mug cupped in her hands, the steam rising into her bent face.
"He won't wear one," she said. "Says it's like eating a beefsteak with a sock over his tongue."
"Is that right?"
"Yes'm. Says he'll have bastards all over these hills before he hides himself under a jimmyhat."
Granny could feel the old ire welling up. She thought of her own daughter in those times long ago. Thought of the fatherless grandchild she kept under her own roof, who slept but fitfully beneath his snarl of blankets, as if his war-lost leg kicked and thumped him in his sleep. She set the shank of the pipe between her teeth and pulled hard.
"Maybe you ought not to ride with him, then."
The girl looked up.
"That's Cooley Muldoon, of the Linville Muldoons. They run more whiskey down from the hills than God does creekwater. He wants you to go with him, you do."
"More whiskey than Eustace Uptree's lot?"
The girl's mug halted halfway to her mouth. She looked around, realizing perhaps where she was. On whose mountain. Her eyes went round.
"No, ma'am, I don't reckon that much."
The boy jammed his elbow out the side of the car, his head following soon after.
"Hey," he said. "How long's this gonna take? I ain't got all damn day to watch y'all jawing it up."
Granny took the pipe from her mouth.
"It's gonna take the rest of your life, you don't show a old woman some respect."
The boy Cooley got out of the car and slammed the door. He was skinny but hard-made, his flannel shirt rolled up over white longjohn sleeves, his suspender loops hanging down like a pair of failed wings. A long stag-handled knife hung from a leather sheath on his belt.
"Listen," he said, "I didn't give twenty dollars to hear the mouthing off of some old whore."
He was pointing at her from the yard, just beyond spitting distance, but she could almost feel the long reach of his finger probing her heart. She looked above him, at the bottles in the tree. The wind moved them slightly on their limbs, a hundred tiny mouths whispering their discontent.
"Careful," she said. "You might ought to recollect where you are."
"I know right where I'm got-damn at."
He started across the yard, his arm outstretched to grab the girl from the porch, but he froze at the stoop, snapped as if at the end of a chain. It was a rumble that stopped him, issued as from the mountain itself. A quaking of the ground. Only one motor in the county made a sound like that.
The coupe rounded the lower bend of the drive, a '40 Ford in black, built like a cannonball. It came clawing its way over the ruts, the big ambulance motor pounding the earth as it climbed. It squeaked to a halt in the yard, stuttering at idle, unaccustomed to so little throttle. The driver killed the engine, the door groaned open. Out stepped Granny May's grandson in his old bomber jacket, his brow hidden beneath a black bowler that had been his grandfather's. He was short but squarely built, his jaw wide and underbit like a bulldog's. The kind of jaw that once it got hold of something, it didn't let up.
"Rory Docherty," said Cooley. "Heard you was back from over there. Part of you, leastways."
Rory hobbled to the front of his car, favoring his wooden foot. He didn't say anything. Cooley spat in the grass.
"Didn't figure you'd be driving much no more."
Rory pulled a pack of Lucky Strikes from his chest pocket and lit one between his cupped palms. The 5th Marines Zippo snapped closed in his hand.
"Hasn't been a problem," he said, "seeing as it's my clutch foot."
Cooley licked his lips, staring at Rory's left boot.
"That driver, Red Byron, now he's a cripple. Ain't stopped him from racing, I reckon. Course, he still has a leg."
Rory blew smoke from his nostrils, a curling blue mustache.
"There some kind of a problem here?"
"We just come for a sip of your granny's tea," said Cooley. "Ella here, she had her a seeding last night."
"Did she," said Rory.
Cooley tugged upward on the front of his britches, grinning.
"Yes, sir. Just needed us a herbal remedy."
The girl gulped down the rest of the tea and stood.
"I'm finished," she said. "We ought to be going. Daddy'll be up soon. I can't have him knowing I ain't been home."
"No," said Cooley, leering at Rory. "We can't have him knowing that."
She came down off the porch and walked to the car, Cooley standing a long moment just where he was. Finally he started back toward the car, bouncing almost on his toes, the fool's grin still twisting his face. He got in the green Hudson and leaned his head out the window.
"Way I hear it, Docherty, they given you a medal just for getting blowed up."
Rory's cheeks darkened as he pulled on the cigarette. The ash flared.
"Yeah," he said.
"Seems awful generous, you ask me."
"You kilt any slants over there?"
The smoke came blowing again from Rory's nostrils, as if a fire were burning in his gut.
"I believe it's time you got the fuck off my property, boy. Double-quick."
Cooley put the car in reverse, looking at Rory.
"You ought to watch how you talk to me," he said. "Eustace is a long way up that mountain."
Rory limped closer to the car. He rested one hand on the roof, leaning in, the cigarette burning between his fingers.
"Careful," he said, lowering his voice. "They say he's got ears in the trees."
Rory nodded his head at the spirit tree. Cooley's eyes went climbing the branches, like Rory knew they would, and Rory flicked his cigarette into the boy's lap. Cooley yelped, swatting at the shower of sparks, a mob of the red-hot flies assaulting his crotch. The girl sitting shotgun clapped a hand over her mouth, trying not to laugh. Cooley knocked the red cherry of ash to the floorboard and stamped it out. When he looked up, his face was skewed, flushed.
"God damn you, Docherty. You'll be sorry for this."
"There's a lot I'm sorry for," said Rory. "Not this."
He turned and started up toward the house. The Hudson reversed out of the yard, jerking into gear, slinging dirt as it slammed and fishtailed down the drive.
Granny watched her boy come laboring up the steps.
"You don't blow smoke into a snake's den, son."
"Wasn't his den, it was ours." He started inside.
"Rory." He stopped. "You forgetting something?"
He bent, dutifully, and kissed her on the cheek.
"Catheads on the stove," she said. "Gravy in the pot."
She heard him cross the floor, the cabin trembling under his gait. She heard the springs protest as he crashed onto his bed, his breakfast going cold.
There was the stone pagoda, three-tiered, built on a small hill over a stream that shone like pebbled glass. The platoon had dammed a pool in the stream. They crouched in their skivvies, soaping and scrubbing the August grit from the creases and crannies of their bodies. Howitzers were perched on the hills around them, like guardian monsters. Still, the Marines washed quickly, feeling like prey without their steel helmets and green fatigues, their yellow canvas leggings that laced up at the sides. Their dog tags jingled at their necks, winking under the Korean sun.
Rory stood from the pool, feeling the cool water stream like a cloak from his form. His bare feet stood white-toed on the curved backs of the stones, eon-smoothed, so like the ones on the mountain of his home. He walked up the hill toward the accordion-roofed temple where they were billeted. He passed olive shirts and trousers drying on rocks and bushes, spread like the skins of killed beasts. The air felt full of teeth. Earlier that day, searching an abandoned village, they had taken sniper fire. Their first. They were Marines, but green. The whip-crack of the shots had flayed the outermost layer of courage from their backs; they were closer now to their bones.
A pair of stone lions guarded the entrance to the pagoda, lichen-clad beasts with square heads and heavy paws. "Foo dogs," the Marines called them. There was a nisei in their platoon, Sato, whose older brother had fought with the 442nd Infantry Regiment in World War II. All Japanese Americans.
"Komainu," he said. "Lion dogs. They ward off evil spirits."
Someone had thrown his shirt over the head of one of the beasts. Rory pulled the garment away, so the creature could see. He stepped on into the temple. The air felt cool here, ancient, like the breath of a cave. The black ghosts of old fires haunted the sconces. The place smelled of incense and Lucky Strikes and nervous Marines. Their gear lined the walls. He had never been in a place this old. Granny was never one for churches — "godboxes," she called them — and those in the mountains seemed flimsy compared to this. Desperate cobblings of boards, some no more than brush arbors. But standing here alone, nearly naked at the heart of the temple, he felt armored in the stone of generations. Swaddled. No bullet could strike him here. No arrow of fear.
Excerpted from "Gods of Howl Mountain"
Copyright © 2018 Taylor Brown.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.
Table of Contents
I. Harvest Moon,
II. Half-Moon, Waning,
III. Sickle Moon, Waning,
IV. New Moon,
V. Sickle Moon, Waxing,
VI. Half-Moon, Waxing,
VII. Hunter's Moon,
Also by Taylor Brown,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Such colorful insightful descriptions, like poetry! Loved this book. Am a big fan of NASCAR and resident of NC where author lives. Appreciate this fine work!
This book will pull you in and keep you until the very end. Keep you on edge and wanting more with each page. It’s wonderfully written and great character development. You have to read it. Thank you to #NetGalley for the arc of this book in exchange for my complete and honest review. I give it 5 stars and recommend it to everyone who loves a good read.
Though I personally found some of the language a little crude, I enjoyed the authentic characters, and the historical and cultural references about the North Caorlina mountains. Having grown up in the foothills of NC, I can attest to the authenticity of the book, which is a good mix of suspense, history and romance. The book moves back and forth between different times, but they were pretty well-delineated. I don’t mean to sound sexist at all; but I normally prefer female writers. However, Taylor Brown holds his own! I will be looking into his other works soon.
4.5 stars I only had to read a few pages and I found myself in the back hills of North Caroline, on Howl Mountain. Rory is living with his granny and the two of them make special trips to see his mother who is living in a special home because of an event that occurred that no one likes to talk about. That’s what it’s like here on the mountain. Everything is on a need-to-know basis. Rory would like to know all the details and he will know, when the time is right. Granny makes her own homemade tinctures, remedies and potions for whatever may ail you and the folks come from many of miles to ask for granny’s help with their ailments. Whiskey is the name of the game here up on the mountain and Rory is a runner for the drink. Since coming back from the war with his leg injury, Rory has been working for Eustace while trying to keep his dreams (or nightmares) at bay. Eustace lives with Rory and Granny since he also came back from the war. Eustace has a great setup here on the mountain with his concealed stills and his loyal crew. Some people want a piece of Eustace business and Eustace isn’t just handing it over. Meanwhile, Rory has been eyeing the preacher’s daughter, he just can’t get past her green eyes. The mountain contains many secrets and stories, some that cannot be told until the time is right. I love stories about the Appalachian Mountains region. I love how dark and mysterious these stories can get, how the past and present twist around each other as the story unfolds. This novel webbed and flowed as I read it, sometimes picking up in pace and excitement and other times, I sat with granny on the front porch, as she smoked her pipe, and waited for the spirits to arrive at night. Descriptive language filled me as I read, I heard the colored glass bottles clinking as they hung from the old tree out front and I saw them all gathered together at the church, their arms lifted, some speaking in tongues, as they danced amongst themselves, worshipping their God. Another great novel about a time and place in history featuring individuals living their own lives on a mountain with its own rules. I received a e-copy of this novel from NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest opinion. Thank you for allowing me to read this novel. I also won a physical copy of this novel from a Goodreads Giveaways. I am thrilled to get a physical copy of this novel so I can reread it. Thank you Goodreads! (less)
Secrets are Held Closely in the Mountains Granny May Docherty lost her daughter Bonni to Dix Hill 30 years ago when nightriders killed her boyfriend, the mill owner’s son Conner, silencing her voice. Her grandson Rory lost his leg to Korea, limiting his employment opportunities on his return home, leaving him little choice but to become a whiskey runner for Eustace Uptree, his best friend’s uncle and Granny May’s lover. Brown takes readers through the rabbit hole away from Mad Men and the American dream of a white picket fence to the colorful and dangerous world of Appalachia, where reigned illegal whiskey and wannabe drivers for the newly founded NASCAR. A middle-aged wood witch and former prostitute, Granny May longs to know who hurt her girl, but fear of consequences prevents her from pursuing it with Rory. Brown’s subtle backstory of Bonni and Conner’s romance contrasts with the rawness and graphic depiction of mountain life in the 50s. Flooding of mountain valleys for “progress” disrupted Appalachian culture and forced a reluctant relationship with those living in towns and cities. Amy Greene’s “Long Man” shows the resistance of one woman against such flooding by the government. In Brown’s story, the event is long-reaching, since the main road literally heads straight into the man-made lake. As in Amy Greene’s debut novel “Bloodroot,” a body part is used as symbolism of a South yet alive with Pagan ways while tightly holding its secrets. Taylor Brown digs out niches in his historical fiction—last vestiges of whiskey runners and nascent NASCAR, river kings, the lawlessness at the end of the civil war—getting down to the nitty-gritty of hard-living, developing complex characters who maintain their integrity in impossible situations. He gets a bit too “real” sometimes; for instance, there’s a lot of spitting in this book, some of it from Granny May—so much spitting. In one scene, Eustace flicks his nephew in the nuts. Graphic details can overwhelm the reader, such as when Rory’s rival purposely hits a deer and Brown describes the specifics of the deer’s physical suffering. Having said that, the reader leaves the novel with a sense of having learned history not found in textbooks, such as exactly what someone who drives illegal booze through the mountains does to his car to outrun the revenuers. It’s a definite must-read.
What a ride! I have such mixed emotions about this book. I love that it is set right in the heart of the mountains where I grew up, just a few mountians over from Boone, North Carolina. My Great Great Granny, like Granny May, lived on The Mountain and didn't come down unless she had to. She didn't do much business with the outside world, most of it was for the same reasons as Granny May - she could help people. That's where the similarities end, my Granny was a devout Christian. Granny May says the only god she believes in is the god of the Mountain. Like Rory and Eustace, my Grandad ran Moonshine made by his gradfather through the mountains in his "hot car" in the fifties. So much of this book hit close to home for me. The first half of the book is very slow though. It seems more like a series of snapshots - lots of very descriptive scenes strung loosely together with a bit of plot. The writing is very gritty. Everything is described in the colors of blood and bruises and wounds, and the characters really rubbed me the wrong way for the first half of the book. They're kind of crass. I understand they are backwoods tough, no sugar-coating, no mincing words, but still... at 50% I was giving this book 3 stars. The story gets much better after the first half, and the last third is an action-packed thrill ride. From about 70% through and on I couldn't put it down. Some very unexpected twists and turns. It reminds me a lot of Matt Bondurant's Wettest County in the World. The descriptive writing finally serves its purpose in the last part of the book - you can almost feel the roar of the engines at the racetrack, almost smell the tang of fiery moonshine. The same descriptiveness that made the first half of the book drag is put to good use in the latter half effectively pulling the reader in. The last half is easily a 5 star read. For those concerned about content, there is at least one very descriptive sex scene and descriptive references to a handful of other incidents, and a lot of suggestive references and language. Just crudeness where I don't think it was warranted. Granny May makes no apologies to anyone, and she calls it like she sees it, whether you want to hear it or not. (In fact, Rory is often found covering his ears and escaping to his car to escape Granny May's tongue) Because this book hits so close to home, I can say I do think it is a fairly accurate historical perspective, and I really appreciated that. The characters are certainly realistic. And the plot itself, once it gets going, is well-crafted.
Out of the park home run! Wow! Just wow! Brown has penned a masterpiece this time. I enjoyed his last book, "River of Kings", but this one....wow! His ability to describe a scene; the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and even the "aura" is incredible. You cannot read this and not feel that you are there, in the mountains of North Carolina in the 1950's. The character development is strong and convincing. The moonshiners, the lawmen, the church members, the healers. The suspense, the violence, the coming of age romances. The mystical, magical character of Granny is especially strong. And the plot is so believable and flows along at such a rapid rate that you cannot put the book aside, but find that you have to take breaks, otherwise you may find yourself actually swept away in the maelstrom! Super highly recommend this book!
I had read “The Fallen Land” by Taylor Brown and absolutely loved it. I don’t know why I had so many problems liking this book. I did put it aside for a while and then come back to it and finish it and I’m glad that I did as the ending was a good, if very violent one. Rory Docherty returns from the war back to Howl Mountain in North Carolina after being immersed in violent battles and losing a foot to the war. In my mind I was a little confused as to why he would come back there when there was no work, no way of making money except to sell moonshine whiskey or work in the “heat and lint and machine-gun rattle of the mills”. However as I read the story more I understood that he came back for his mother and his Granny May who raised him. His mother, Bonni, had been in an asylum since she had been in a horrible encounter where her boyfriend/lover was killed in front of her and she did not speak a word after that. This isn’t an easy book to read. It is quite dismal and depressing with the only bright points coming from some beautiful descriptions of the mountains and some humor from some of the things that Granny May said.The novel also flashes back to the war which was as depressing as the present story. Some of the writing was just gorgeous, in speaking about the lone chestnut tree standing on top of Howl Mountain “The others of its kind, chestnuts, had once covered these mountains, the bark of their trunks deeply furrowed, age twisted like the strands of giant steel cables. Their leaves sawtoothed, golden this time of year, when the falling nuts fattened the beasts of the land, sweetening their meat . . . .Some exotic fungus had slipped in through wounds in their bark, the work of antlers or claws or penknives, victims of death black cankers that starved and toppled them.” I love strongly character driven novels and I had trouble connecting with anyone on this mountain. I also love descriptive prose but at times in this book it just seemed like too much and I found myself flipping past some pages to get back to the plot. If I could I would rate this book 4* for the writing alone but it was a 3* read for me and that is my honest review. I don’t think I would recommend this book to friends or book clubs, etc. I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley, thank you.
Moody, dark and a bit witchy, GODS OF HOWL MOUNTAIN carries us to eastern North Carolina right after the Korean War when moonshine and big American cars set the scene. Of course, folk medicine and internecine battles between folks running moonshine, their competitors, and the law really define this tale that the author delivers in a pitch perfect style. The characters are so alive they seem to reach out from the pages. And these characters have a lot going on, only half of which they are aware of; the other half is a work in progress. That work is the topic of the novel as the story moves forward. It’s a good tale and well worth reading. I received my copy from the publisher through NetGalley.
Taylor Brown’s Gods of Howl Mountain was a one of a kind literary trip through the secret life of moonshiners living in the mountains of North Carolina in the 1950’s. Rory Docherty, returned from the war and one leg short, is settling in back at home, living with his grandmother, Granny May, who raised him after his mother was witness to a horrific crime that left her mute and living in a home for the mentally ill. As Rory gets readjusted to his bootlegging life, he encounters challenges unique to the lifestyle. He has to dodge the feds, battles other local whiskey-runners and falls for, against his Granny’s warnings, a God-fearing girl. While juggling all things life in the moonshiner’s mountains, Rory continues to investigate the mystery of who put his mother in a mental hospital. Since she won’t speak, no one knows for sure who caused her unspoken terror, and he is determined to find revenge, one way or another. Unfortunately, the dangers of the mountains and its secrets will do all it can to stand in the way of the truth. While this was not a fast-paced read, there was plenty going on to hold my interest, from stock car races to federal car chases. From brothels and moonshine deliveries to Pentecostal potlucks and potions, there is something to keep you reading at every turn. The writing was intense, descriptive and revealing, at times so visual it was difficult to push through. I felt like I could see, feel and smell the mountains of North Carolina. The content was something I have not read before, and it was believable and uniquely fascinating. I found myself completely pulled into the story and the atmosphere. I could picture Granny May, running out to the porch of their country cabin, barefoot, hair wild and swinging a rifle around. This is not a book I would normally think to pick up since it’s not a topic I have read about before, but I would recommend this read, even if it’s a subject outside your typical wheelhouse. What a rare opportunity to experience the true backwoods of North Carolina from a perspective that most would never be exposed to. A fascinating four star for this unique story. **Review by Amy, Late Night Reviewer for Up All Night with Books**
Maybelline “Granny May” Docherty and her grandson Rory live in a shack high up in the North Carolina mountains. The vivid descriptions by Taylor Brown of the home, the people, and their habits carry you into the world and it is not a pretty picture. This isn’t a feel-good story but it could easily be a true story. The author delves into the lifestyle of the Appalachian mountain people that has persisted for years and to this day still does. Rory is a Korean vet who returned from the war with one less leg. He’s a runner for the moonshiners; his love for his souped-up car Maybelline and his ability to handle her on the rough mountain roads is impressive. He lives with his grandmother Granny May who is one tough little gal, and a medicine doctor of sorts. Rory‘s mother is in a mental institution and hasn’t spoken for years, the result of a horrendous attack when she was a young teen. It continues to burn a hole and Rory and Granny May’s heart to solve who did this to their loved one and to serve retribution as needed. This is a great story, a great environment and no bright sky in the future but as stated earlier, it could easily be true and it could easily happen today. I enjoy reading these kinds of plots; lifestyles of others that we’re oblivious to. I think there’s so much we take for granted in our daily lives. The author does such a fantastic job of putting you in the middle of Granny’s shack and living Granny’s life; the food, the lack of facilities, the body odors and the lack of respect for outsiders is so vivid. But also crystal clear is the love, dedication and deep respect for their home and family. This is a thoroughly engrossing and moving read. (I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for making it available.)
I am very pleased - thank you Netgalley - to be exposed to this fine southern writer. He is one I will add to my followed list. Gods of Howl Mountain is a peek into the North Carolina mountains in 1952. We have lovely girls and hot cars and dirt roads galore and it all makes for a fast paced tale that you hate to see end. Running moonshine was the shadowed beginning of NASCAR racing, and we also have a mention of Junior. The Junior. Johnson. But the hero of this tale is Rory Docherty, a Marine Vet who lost his clutching leg just below the knee in Korea. Home again, he and best friend Eli work daily on their pre-war Ford coupe sitting over a truck frame and suspension, with a powerful ambulance six cylinder under the hood. They are also fashioning a maple prosthetic leg and foot with an imbedded pistol in the calf, and Rory wastes a lot of gas learning how to use it confidently. Weekly he runs across the state to Raleigh to visit his mom. Eli is the nephew of Eustace, who makes the 'shine that the boys run to town and country customers. Maybelline, their Ford, is named for Granny May, the grandmother who raised Rory. We have flashbacks to the beginning of WWI, when Maybelline and her lover marry, and he ships off to Europe, and back home in a box. May is 15 or 16, the new mother of a now fatherless Bonni, and no family of her own to depend on. She falls into the only asset she can offer at the local bordillo, where she can feed herself and her child despite the bad times. We also have flashbacks into the early 1930's when the valley was first flooded to accommodate a power producing dam, and the severe changes this made in this mountain community. We see life then through the schoolgirl eyes of Rory's mom, Bonni and her lover Connor. Connor is murdered by three unknown hooded characters, and Bonni is so damaged mentally she has not spoken since, and was committed to the insane asylum in Raleigh. May takes on their baby Rory when the time comes, and places all her assets way up onto the mountainside, rejecting civilization altogether and raising Rory on her skill with herbs and potions learned from another old mountain granny. Granny May , 54 years old, smokes a corncob pipe and rocks on her porch of an evening, but the only time she smokes tobacco is after sex. She grows many things in the privacy of the mountain. Rory is fixated on solving the mystery of who killed his father and so harmed the mother he loves. The bad guys are the rival Muldoon Family, who also make and run moonshine on the mountain. The girl who may prove to be the love of Rory's life is Christine Adderholt, daughter of the snake yielding preacher of the Gospel at the old service station at End-of-the-Road, the last bits of the old town before the road runs straight into the dammed lake. Christine's father's brother is the local sheriff and thus another strike against the couple. As you can see, this is a story jam-packed with characters you will enjoy and cheer on in their good times, feel sorrow for in the bad. There are plenty of both, to keep you guessing. I want more of Taylor Brown. I received a free electronic copy of this fascinating historical novel from Netgalley, Taylor Brown, and St. Martin's Press in exchange for an honest review. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me.
It's the fall of 1952, and Rory Docherty is back from the war in Korea. He lost one leg below the knee, but at least he is alive. Gods of Howl Mountain are alive and sinister in this new book by award-winning author, Taylor Brown. Alive, that is, as angry yet fearful, poverty-stricken, gun-toting, secretive, and superstitious bootleggers. There is safety in the remote sections of Appalachia, and there is danger, especially from competing bootleggers. Back home in the mountains of North Carolina, Rory returns to moonshining -- and to finding out who destroyed his mother. Oh, she is still alive, but she hasn't spoken since being raped so many years ago. The rape that produced Rory and sent his mother to a mental institution, left him to be raised by his grandmother, the herbal healer Maybelline (Granny May). At times Brown's prose is almost poetic in its description of the beauty that is Appalachia and North Carolina, as well as the danger found in some remote mountain areas. Gods of Howl Mountain will take you along on the struggle between good and evil, between justice and revenge, as Rory's life is threatened, and Granny May finally realizes who hurt her family so many years ago. This powerfully evocative novel will be in stores March 20, 2018. What Made This Reviewer Grumpy? Misspelling the contraction of "would have" and "could have" as "would of" and "could of", rather than the correct "would've" and "could've".
I love Baroque and Rococo churches, but after visiting more than two in a day, my brain turns to mush with the excess of OTT architecture and decoration. This book is Baroque with an added Rococo make-over. Every phrase is embellished, with extra twisting curves on the embellishments. Two examples: “The trees cascaded skeleton like down from the mountaintops, pooling rust-crowned in the valleys, the leaves withering on the limb-ends like burning matchsticks.” and “Granny locked her jaws against a yawn, the cold sucked whistling through her teeth. Slowly she stood, her joints rusty and night-seized, popping and smarting as she rose. Her hips ground in their sockets like mustard seeds in a mortar bowl. Her thighbones were a pair of heavy pestles. Her back an old king post, worm-eaten and warping under the raftered weight of her collarbones”. The author is clearly gifted, and the imagery is excellent – there is just too much of a good thing, and it gets in the way of telling the story. My brain just cannot cope with so many different images at once, and I lose track of the story and characters. As a result, the book took me much longer to read than it should have. The surface story is about the illegal whiskey-running in the hills. It is an age-old industry, originally born out of poverty as the only way to make a living wage, but now it is a major business, and everyone wants a bigger cut: Eustace, the current big man in the hills; the Muldoons, a family of town ruffians; and the local sheriff. Meanwhile, the Revenue man, Kingman, wants to shut it all down. The main character, the battle-damaged one-legged Rory, works for Eustace. He lives with his grandmother, the redoubtable Granny May, and falls in love with the daughter of a snake-wrangling, evangelical preacher. His mute mother, Bonni, is in a mental hospital following a massive trauma that may have led to his conception. Neither Rory nor Granny May knows what really happened to Bonni and why, and this mystery is unpicked bit by bit throughout the book, with an unexpected surprise ending. There is a lot going on in this book to keep your interest. There is the excellent Granny May, with her backstory and herbal medications; the love story between Rory and Christine; the Bonni mystery, more than enough about suped-up cars (if that is where your interests lie) and the bootlegging. The writing, the plotting and characters are all very good – but it just did not grab me the way it should have. I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
Loved the story of a wounded back woodsman coming back to run moonshine. Characters just did not move me. Seems like the past of this family was more heartfelt than the events that were unfolding in the present. "A copy of this book was provided by St Martin's Press via NetGalley with no requirements for a review. Comments here are my honest opinion."
This story involves whisky-running, folk healers, sex, guns and cars... set into the landscape of the mountainous high country of North Carolina. It's 1950, and Rory Docherty has returned from the war with a wooden leg. He lives in a cabin with his Granny May, who is my favorite character in the book. She used to work in a whorehouse, makes a living selling herbal remedies, smokes a corncob pipe (of likely "medicinal" substance) and is skilled with handling a shotgun. One minute she's smoking a pipe rocking in a chair on her porch, and the next she could be rocking against the headboard of her bed. There's a mystery to be unravelled involving Rory's mother, who cannot speak and lives in a mental facility. There is also friction and mistrust between those that live in the mountains versus the valley. This is a unique book written in such a way as to be savored. It's not a free-flowing style that rolls easily over the tongue and through your brain. It's very descriptive with minute details and almost poetic. I found myself having to re-read passages to digest things fully, but sometimes grew impatient and skimmed past things to cut to the chase. The more this kind of story speaks to you, the more patient you will be to hang onto every word. I was only mildly interested in the premise of this story, so I grew impatient with the writing style. Thank you to St. Martin's Press who provided this advance reader copy via NetGalley.