Normally when I start a book I want to be drawn in by the first sentence, the first paragraph or first page. By the time I had finished the first page of A Swollen Red Sun all I wanted to do was hurl. Page two never looked so good.
Now, before you get the wrong idea, it wasn't that the writing was bad; it was the scene and the unfortunately good description.
The setting for this novel is Gasconade County, Missouri, which was once called the methamphetamine capital of the world. The essential premise is a deputy sheriff stumbles across some drug money and although he is basically an honest guy, this time he decides to keep the money. This one impulsive decision sets into motion a series of actions that are disastrous and deadly.
Except for the main character Deputy Sheriff Dale Banks and his family, the majority of the characters are involved in the drug trade both as producers and users. McBride takes us inside their heads so we can see how they see themselves and their dreams, especially when they are high, and leaves us to compare it to their downtrodden reality. Life in Gasconade county is hard with very few rewards.
The character of Olsen Brandt is well drawn. He is a lonely old man living out his days with his cherished dog on what is left of his farm. Olsen is a sympathetic character whose strength is tested on a daily basis. A tragic accident killed one of his sons at a young age, the surviving son is serving time in prison, and since his wife died a year ago all he wants to do is join her.
Some of the characters are true degenerates like the very unsavory self-appointed Reverend, Butch Pogue. Yup - the name says it all.
When thinking about this book I decided this simply isn't my type of book because it contains some rather graphic scenes. Yet I realized I have read other books with scenes at least as violent, perhaps even more violent. It's McBride's writing. He can turn simple words into very powerful images. The descriptions of the dry rural landscape in the humid heat, the dusty back roads with their "buffet" of potholes will leave you feeling parched. I particularly liked this description:
The sun went down behind the mobile home like a burst of egg yolk that dripped from the sky and consumed the trees. Sycamores on the river cast long shadows in the burnt auburn hue, and golden shafts punched holes through plump clouds that looked ripe to carry wetness for days.
The story itself is slow paced to start but picks up speed about two thirds of the way through. All the loose ends are nicely tied up and will leave you feeling satisfied that some justice has been served.
If you like your suspense stories with a touch of red neck then this one is for you.