Try the devil, though I didn’t double cross him. I pledged allegiance. – Billy Wilkes, Kentucky Bestiary
“Hero” is such an odd word. Is a hero only that person who makes the grand and often fatal gesture? Or can a hero be a simple cop, tired, worn by the pain, the depression, the idiocy of humanity? And when do the horrors of life lead to the horrors of madness?
Corporal Pietro Silone was so very tired of Cincinnati. High crime, danger, drugs.
But the change he expected when he moves back to the ‘hollers’ of Eastern Kentucky – calm, peace, a speeding ticket now and again, is not what he finds. Instead, meth-heads and murder are the acts of the day, and reality takes a curve to the depths of despair and revulsion, of mystifying dreams and horrors of the mind and soul.
“Do you know where the cave led before it got blown?” Pete imagined it leading to the adyta where saurian-headed lizard men sacrificed virgins on an alter with bas relief carvings of some Sumerian forebear of Beelzebub sculpted into its stone, the monsters salivating for blood. It had been a long night.
Kentucky Bestiary is an oddity. Beginning as a quite well written police procedural, it blends and flows into a story of horror and myth, of Appalachian life. The horrors of monsters blend seamlessly with the horrors of the history of the mountains, the coal mines and the monstrous men who ran them, who worked children till their fingers bled, their lungs collapsed, their lives lived in the chthonic darkness of the miles and miles of tunnels, filled with not only darkness, but the terrors of cave-ins; of haints and hoodoos, and things that go bump in the night.
In the mines you had to keep your friends alive. In ‘Nam you had to keep your friends alive.
The threads of history flow through the book – Vietnam plays a role in the story of Pete’s uncle, the Veteran. But the history of the superstitions of the immigrants who populate the area is a stronger thread. Cryptozoology to snake handling, Pentecostals to Native American legend. The horrors of modern day meth heads, excruciating poverty and the hand-to-mouth lives of people with no hope living amongst rich tourists and a mysterious billionaire with a mysterious past, and an even more mysterious present.
The carrion’s gray coat stretched above them and gave off a faint animal musk, the beak of the preserved vulture’s head shadowing them like the canopy shrouding a massive dark Yggdrasil tree.
This is a very different sort of book. If you are looking for straight police procedural, you aren’t going to find it here. But if you are looking for something unusual, odd, and very deeply scary, a mind trip far from the usual, this is one to check out. Just don’t do it right before bed . . .
I received this book from the publisher in return for a realistic review. All thoughts are my own.