At least one reviewer has named Tom Bouman's debut novel, Dry Bones in the Valley, a work of rural noir, but as I read through the opening chapters, I couldn't help but think, I know this place. And I do. That is because Bouman's novel takes place in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, in a world not so different than where I grew up. So, I am going to reclassify Dry Bones in the Valley as a work of Pennsylvania rural noir.
Officer Henry Farrell, who is hiding his own painful past, spends his days breaking up bar brawls and looking for stolen farm equipment, so when he stumbles upon a body on the land of a local recluse, he finds himself deep in a world of meth labs, violence, and family secrets that date back for generations. Easily marketed as a crime novel exploring a who-done-it theme, Dry Bones in the Valley is more than just a mystery. It's an exploration of people and place and how secrets can tear both apart.
Bouman, whether he is exploring the landscape and its history or examining the lives of people, is a master of description. And it's his descriptions, more than the plot, that pull the reader into this world. For instance, when the narrator explores the woods of northeastern Pennsylvania, he sees "rusted strands of barbed wire" disappearing "into tree trunks that have grown around them." One dirt road that he travels is little more than a creek bed: "you could see great ribbons of muddy water cut through it." Bouman's characters also share similar descriptions, descriptions that often seem to mirror the environment around them. For instance, Aub Dunigan, the local crazy recluse, is described as a man with "stooped shoulders" and a "pink scalp" shining through "yellowed hair." His eyes are "dark and sunk deep."
Bouman's book is a solid read. I felt like I was traveling through the backwoods of Pennsylvania with every turn of the page. If anything, when I closed the book, I wanted more: more about this harsh world that somehow sparks both violence and hope.
For more information about Dry Bones in the Valley, see the author's website.
In many ways, I am more of a reader than a writer. This page will serve as a home for my informal reviews of what I've been reading.