Code of the Hills
reviewed by Eric Ellis
In Code of the Hills by Chris Offutt, Offutt returns to the mountains and rural area of Rocksalt, Kentucky in the third novel featuring Mick Hardin and those in his orbit.
Code of the Hills picks up two years after the second Mick Hardin novel, Shifty’s Boys. Mick has just retired from the US Army as a felony investigator focusing on violent crimes and as a trainer of new investigators. After his previous Rocksalt stay ended with an abrupt departure, he has returned to his home state of Kentucky for a short visit before heading off to France for an extended stay.
His sister Linda is still sheriff and upon his arrival he finds her office has just opened an investigation into the murder of a local mechanic.
Soon, due to actions beyond his control and with his sister sidelined due to a work-related injury, Mick’s departure plans are put on pause. He is soon made a temporary deputy to assist in the investigation of additional committed crimes, which may or may not be related to the original killing.
While Mick struggles with a desire to always keep moving forward and a quirk of being unable to stay in one place for too long, he is also burdened with the knowledge of the importance of one’s own roots and history and the hollow feelings of what it means to neglect such ties.
As Mick and others move forward on the investigations, Mick finds himself seeking information from others away from the hills of Kentucky, which includes making Faustian bargains with men as dangerous as he and ones that may come back to haunt him later.
Mick also discovers, as the title of the novel suggests, justice comes in different forms and that includes the code of the hills, which may be different than laws made by humans.
As with his other novels and writing, Offutt’s writing is so smooth, flawless, and devoid of wasteful wordiness and equal to that of so many of the exceptional Southern writers of today.
Code of the Hills is highly recommended to fans of rural/country noir, with readers being encouraged to seek out his other books. It is also suggested readers read his Mick Hardin novels in order due to each novel continuing the further development of previously introduced characters.
Code of the Hills is set for a June 2023 release. Netgalley provided an ARC upon the promise of a fair review.