Hank Early wrote a winner with Heaven’s Crooked Finger, a tense mystery novel steeped in the Southern Gothic tradition. After receiving a mysterious letter, private investigator Earl Marcus travels back home to the Georgia town that banished him years ago. Word around Coulee County is that Earl’s father, the fundamentalist preacher R.J. Marcus, has returned from the grave just as he’d prophesized. And if there’s anyone who could pull off such a feat, it’s the indomitable elder Marcus, who for decades had wielded an uncanny power over his followers as well as everyone in the surrounding countryside. As Earl investigates, the plot thickens, body parts turn up, and everyone in town—old faces and new—seems to have something to hide. To find the truth, Earl must confront his tortured past, make amends for old transgressions, and face the familial ghosts that have haunted him for years. Heaven’s Crooked Finger is a gritty noir with a richly layered main character weaving his way through a two-fisted tale full of external threats and internal reconciliation. The story is told with a brisk pace and short chapters that invariably end with a teaser, demanding you go ahead and start the next one, making the book hard to put down. I understand this is the first of what will be a series of “Earl Marcus mysteries,” and I look forward to the next one.
Pick up the book in paperback, hardcover or e-book HERE.
P.S. — Some extra musings on my recent reading (and writing)…
I didn’t know much about Hank Early, but I knew he was from Alabama (like me), so I wanted to give him a shot. I’m glad I did; he’s the real deal.
Coincidentally, I read this book back-to-back after finishing a novel from another Alabama writer, Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon. Maybe that’s more interesting to me than it is to you, but what struck me as I waded through Heaven’s Crooked Finger was the way the two books complemented each other in terms of theme.
Although both books could be categorized as mysteries, Boy’s Life is a “coming-of-age” tale concerned with the wonders of the youthful imagination. Almost as a counterpoint, I’d describe Hank Early’s book as a “coming-to-terms” tale concerned with the disillusionment that comes with adulthood, particularly in regard to P.I. Earl Marcus’ storied relationship with his family.
Both writers handle those themes with great skill, and that keen insight into the human condition is what makes a work of fiction stick with you long after reading it… It’s what arguably elevates fiction to the level of “literature,” at least in my estimation. (And ultimately my opinion matters a great deal more to me than any stuffy academic’s or literary critic’s — I don’t give a rip.)
Traditionally, in my own writing, I haven’t had lofty goals. Just getting someone to read it makes me giddy, regardless of whether they liked it or not. But my outlook is changing with my age. I turn 42 this year. I had a third child this year. I hate to use the word “maturing,” but maybe that’s what’s ailing me. I still play in a punk rock band, for crying out loud, but that lifestyle is also taking its toll on me, and I’m afraid my days with those guys are numbered since I now have so many babies to juggle.
And maybe punk rock sounds better coming from angry youth rather than middle-aged dudes. I’m still debating that with myself, but it circles back to my point. Punk rock must be fueled by a place of angst, if it’s going to sound any good. A good punk musician has to feel it to be convincing. That’s how I’ve viewed my last three collections of short horror stories — I felt I HAD to write them. They’ve been building up inside this horror fan since my youth spent watching midnight movies and poring over EC Comics. But now I’ve purged them from within me, and I no longer feel I HAVE TO write them. And I fully admit they were no sort of “literature,” nor did I aspire for them to be. I was very concerned about craft, characterization, mood, suspense, etc., but ultimately my primary aim with the horror shorts has been to go: “Booga-booga-booga!” or “Muahahahaha!”
And I’ve loved doing it. It’s been so much fun. And I think that I’ve succeeded in what I aimed to do. I am particularly pleased with my latest Teeth Marks as an achievement in quality pulp horror fiction. Maybe it’s not getting a lot of readers, but it’s gotten some wonderful reviews.
Since I feel like I’ve succeeded (at least at an artistic level) with that sort of fiction, I’ve been thinking of stories that might have grander, more universal themes in mind. Themes that will “stick with you” long after you’ve read them, the way Boy’s Life and Heaven’s Crooked Finger did with me.
Oh, I’ll always have my feet grounded in the swamp waters of dark fiction, because — hey, I gotta be me. But I’m also ready to set my sights on higher targets, because at this age that’s what I’m starting to feel…