A gritty, down-home exploration of murder and dysfunction in a Texas town.
Upon her college graduation, Annie McIntyre returns home to Garnett, Texas, thinking about law school but with no clear path in sight. She’s living with her cousin Nikki and waitressing at a diner, where she meets young mother Victoria Merritt. Attending Justin Schneider’s bonfire party takes Annie right back to high school, as beer flows and a volatile combination of jocks, mean girls, and out-of-town roughnecks mix. Victoria turns up apparently bombed out of her mind; it’s the last time Annie sees her alive. When Victoria’s disappearance and a fatal hit-and-run roil the town, Annie, whose dysfunctional family has a long history in law enforcement, feels pulled to investigate. Mary-Pat, who runs a private investigation firm with Annie’s grandfather Leroy, hires her to do office work that may lead to an internship. Annie and Nikki’s many visits to bars in search of Victoria end when her body is discovered in a shallow grave on Annie’s family land. The experience brings on a bout of PTSD from a traumatic experience Annie had at a fraternity party during her senior year in high school. When Fernando, a high school friend who works at the diner, is arrested, Annie gets Leroy and Mary-Pat to investigate for his lawyer. A gas company that sought to lease Victoria’s land gives her husband a financial motive for her murder; the environmental problems the company is hiding give it a powerful motive as well.
A dark picture of hardscrabble Texas juiced by the heroine’s angst makes for a great debut. Here’s hoping for a follow-up.
"Wondrous....Allen proves herself as adept as the likes of David Baldacci, Lisa Gardner, and Lisa Scottoline."
—The Providence Journal
“There’s a wistful air wafting through Samantha Jayne Allen’s debut… Allen writes with keen acumen, her sentences marked with quiet yet powerful grace notes.” —The New York Times
"Samantha Jayne Allen paints a detailed picture of small-town Texan life and invites readers along on a crime-solving adventure full of deepening family relationships and life lessons." —Reader's Digest
"If you liked the realist grit of Mare of Easttown, you’ll savor this smart and layered tale from a new Georgia writer worth watching." —The Augusta Chronicle
"Intensity of plot and depth of characters lift Allen’s novel into the top tier of rural noir. And her prose, rich with the rendering of the Texas countryside, imbues Pay Dirt Road with literary merit. Impressive and intense, Pay Dirt Road exemplifies splendid crime fiction—indeed, any fiction—and establishes Allen as a gifted creator."
—Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star
"While Pay Dirt Road entertains, it also makes the reader think beyond the confines of the story. That’s what good books are supposed to do." —New York Journal of Books
"Allen’s prose lights up like a neon beer sign....The Central Texas setting rings true, not just in its gratifying buffet of kolaches, H-E-B tortillas, and Texas sheet cake, but in the turreted McMansions whose smiling bluebonnet photos hide a host of sins." —Texas Monthly
"[T]he Texas landscape, with its falling-apart houses and bedraggled bars, comes alive in this remarkable novel, reminiscent of Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show." —Booklist, starred review, Top 10 Debut Mysteries & Thrillers 2022
"A dark picture of hardscrabble Texas juiced by the heroine’s angst makes for a great debut. Here’s hoping for a follow-up." —Kirkus
"Powerful...a major new talent on the crime fiction scene." —CrimeReads, Best Debut Crime Novels of the Month
"Samantha Jayne Allen hits the ground running in her poignant debut....This mystery ushers in a new author to watch." —Shelf Awareness
"A fresh, essential voice in crime fiction, as crisp and sharp as the air after a cold front sweeps through Texas. Better still, it's just a kick-ass, beautifully written coming-of-age novel." —Laura Lippman, New York Times bestselling author
"Rural noir has found a stunning new voice in Samantha Jayne Allen's Pay Dirt Road, a pitch-perfect literary mystery as beautiful and thrilling as a summer storm. Channeling Veronica Mars by way of Mare of Easttown, waitress Annie McIntyre investigates the murder of a girl everyone wants to forget in her hometown of Garnett, Texas. With its haunted setting and uncompromising voice, Allen's debut invokes the restless, melancholy backroads of the Lone Star State, ranking her with Kathleen Kent, Attica Locke, and the best of the new generation of Texas writers."
—Amy Gentry, Bestselling author of Good as Gone
"Fellow Georgia scribe, Samantha Jayne Allen, has written a brilliantly paced and breathless debut novel. Pay Dirt Road is a gorgeous blend of sweeping epic and small-town mystery. From the stark and hazy Texas backdrop to the sins of the past and secrets that come home to roost, the tension never lets up. This book will have your head spinning and your heart breaking. It’s hard to believe this is a debut novel. Pay Dirt Road is a perfect addition to the rural mystery genre."
—Brian Panowich, Award-winning author of Bull Mountain, Like Lions & Hard Cash Valley
“It's no mystery why Pay Dirt Road won the Tony Hillerman Prize for best debut novel: its heroine, Annie McIntyre, is smart and complex, the family and small-town dynamics are richly layered, and the evocative language drops you directly into the gritty Southwest. Samantha Jayne Allen is a writer to watch."
—Jess Lourey, Bestselling author of Unspeakable Things
"Samantha Allen has delivered a beauty of a debut novel with Pay Dirt Road. This is the best kind of literary thriller, every bit as compelling and hard-edged as we'd expect of a Tony Hillerman Prize winner, with real heart—and a scrapper of a heroine—at its core. Allen prowls this territory with the smarts and savvy of a seasoned veteran, and I look forward to seeing what this fine young writer does next."
—Ben Fountain, New York Times bestselling author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk