Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Coffin County is the most recent mass-market paperback release from one of the best writers working in the field today, Gary A. Braunbeck. It is the fourth of his novels to be set in the fictitious town of Cedar Hill, Ohio. Braunbeck is the author of Prodigal Blues, one of the best books I have ever read, but this is the first of his Cedar Hill stories I’ve tackled.
The book starts of in a seemingly disjointed way, jumping around to various events over a significant period of time in Cedar Hill, with a number of different characters. I found this to be initially quite confusing, but Braunbeck connects the various threads, and it settles into a bit more of a conventional story.
The story operates on two major levels: One is a struggle between two immortal entities, played out through the lives of humans. One of these entities could be called good and the other evil, but the line is somewhat blurred. The other level is an examination of violence in America, taking a look at Columbine, San Ysidro, and so on.
The book follows the attempts of a Cedar Hill police detective to solve several spree killings in his town, killings with perplexing clues. The detective is grappling with personal demons, as he has just reached the anniversary of the deaths of his wife and son in a senseless incident. As he delves deeper into the case, he is given a horrible choice to make.
Braunbeck is a master of language, and his books are always a joy in that regard. I enjoyed Coffin County, but wished I had read the three previous Cedar Hill novels, as I think that would have made it a bit easier for me to follow. Or maybe I’m just naturally slow. I was also a bit perplexed by the novels extended plunges into the realm of the police procedural. There was perhaps a bit too much discussion of the art of fingerprint analysis for my taste.
Still, I would recommend this book to anyone, although maybe the books should be read in order. The book includes two stand-alone cedar Hill short stories, which were very good. The fifth and perhaps final Cedar Hill novel is coming soon from Leisure.
On a related note, there has been a rumor going around (I may have spread it myself) that Braunbeck is through with the horror genre. I’m pleased to say, based on a recent interview Braunbeck did on the Rod of Horror, that is untrue, and based on a message board misinterpretation.