Shifty's Boys
February 28, 2022

Book Review

Shifty's Boys

reviewed by Eric Ellis

Shifty’s Boys is a follow-up novel to Chris Offutt’s previous novel, The Killing HIls, and picks up a year later after the ending of The Killing Hills.

Though Shifty’s Boys contains the same main characters as in The Killing Hills and refers back to previous events, it is not necessary to read The Killing Hills first, but reading it will enhance the story found in Shifty’s Boys.

Barney Kissick is a low-level heroin dealer in the mountains of Rocksalt, Kentucky and after he is found murdered in an abandoned parking lot, authorities of that jurisdiction appear determined to write his murder off as some sort of internecine turf war when a number of small baggies of heroin are found littered around Barney’s corpse.

Barney’s mother Shifty, the widowed matriarch to the Kissick family and mother to two other Kissick boys, is a stern, proud woman and more dangerous than a mere elder. Shifty is also with strong ties to the history and customs of the past, and after souring upon the lack of progress of the investigation into the murder of her son, requests Mick Hardin’s help in finding out who killed Barney and why. 

Mick Hardin, a criminal investigator with the United States Army and brother to county sheriff Linda Hardin, is back home recuperating after a combat zone injury and agrees to meet with Shifty and agrees to her request more so out of a sense of what is right than anything else.

Soon, Mick is learning more information about the murder leading him to believe the murder of Barney was not just a drug dealer on drug dealer murder and involves others even more capable and dangerous as Mick can be.

Offutt’s writing in Shifty’s Boys is remarkably smooth and engaging, with the pages of the novel turning with hardly any missteps.  His writing also continues to illustrate how many Southern writers are so capable of decorating their tales with descriptive regional environments of both the physical and cultural world.

Shifty’s Boys is highly recommended to readers that enjoy “rural noir” and the writing of authors such as Brian Panowich, David Joy, and Tom Franklin and is set to be published in June of 2022.

Shifty’s Boys was provided by Netgalley with the promise of a fair review.

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