“Fire on the Mountain” – Clabe Polk

This is a rather different police procedural novel, since most of the procedures seem to be discussed over the lunch special at Bertie’s Diner. It has a cast of country store front-porch philosophers, setting a tone that contrasts with the stark reality of sexual abuse and drug addiction that lurks in the dark corners of every small modern town.

The main action in the story concerns the unravelling of a bootlegging dynasty in the Georgia hill country. They have changed with the times, going from moonshine whiskey stills to pot fields to amphetamine labs, and their infighting has the strange dualism of a family feud. There is a nice touch of realism and the portrayal of contrasting characters with the innocent and the guilty in this tiny criminal organization going to family birthday parties, drinking, fighting and carrying on as if they were normal.

I had a great time watching one of the criminal triplets considering that the best business solution for his problems was to murder the competition, but deciding that brothers just didn’t kill brothers, so he would have to find another solution for the problem.

The other side of the story involves detective Mike Eiser and his fire-investigating sidekick, Donna, also the love interest, although the sexual conflict usually involves her boosting him out of the bed in the morning, abetted by Bad Ass, a 90-pound Rottweiler whose slobber is worse than his bite.

The format of the story has a minor problem because of switching points of view. It’s great for social commentary to see both sides of the fence, but difficult in a detective novel, where it shows us everything about the bad guys, but then we have to keep reminding ourselves that the detectives don’t know a whole lot of stuff we know.

There is also a reliance on luck (or is it just fate?) that involves the criminals making it easy for the good guys by doing stupid things like drunk driving, and handing over evidence on a platter. Probably realistic, but it does tone down the suspense.

At the two-thirds point, the story seems to be over. But it isn’t, and off we go on another bumpy ride through the back roads of Georgia to a different conclusion than the one we expected. Which is exactly what we should expect from a good book.

A casual, family-style country detective novel. Recommended for cozy mystery fans who don’t mind a bit of violence, drug addiction, murder…well, anyway, I recommend it.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)


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