A Killing In Quail County by Jameson Cole, Saint Martins Press; March 1996)
This 1996 hardcover had been sitting on the shelf since new, and I finally pulled it off the shelf in a fit of “I don’t know what to read next”. I’m sure glad I did. I especially liked the 15 year-old narrator.
It’s 1957. Mark Stoddard, 15, is growing up in Bob White, Oklahoma. Recently orphaned by an accident that killed his parents, Mark lives with dog Bopeep and taciturn older brother Jess, a deputy sheriff with little time for him but plenty for the girls he brings home at night. Mark’s best friend is Ferret, son of Reverend and Mrs. Brubacher, who are hosts for the summer to T.J. Gatlin, a pretty, tough 14-year-old cousin whose parents are divorcing. Mark also has an enemy: moonshiner Lafe Packard, a vicious old man whose son, arrested by Jess, has died in jail, leaving Packard promising a bloody revenge.
Mark has dedicated the summer to finding Packard’s still, hidden in the forbidden-to-him woods of Bottomlands. So far he’s had no success, but there’s another bizarre element in Mark’s God-fearing town: a tall, oddly dressed, long-haired blond stranger whom Mark christens Tarzan. The townspeople call him a variety of unflattering names, but he saves Mark’s life in a close encounter with Packard. Later, Mark finds Tarzan dying in his Bottomlands tent, refusing to name his killer. Mark is sure it’s Packard, but events finally bring him to recognize other, less obvious villains in his straitlaced town, even as his feelings for T.J. lose their panicky edge.
Several long excursions into the woods and a plethora of hand-to-hand battles may slow some readers (I enjoyed them), but the story has it’s tender moments, and insight. This was one of my favorite books read in 2018.