Heaven’s Crooked Fin­ger

Hank Early Crooked Lane Books (NOVEM­BER) Hard­cover $26.99 (336pp) 978-1-68331-391-5

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction - GARY PRES­LEY

With his sur­pris­ing new work of hill­billy noir, Hank Early has es­tab­lished a solid foun­da­tion for a new crime series.

With Heaven’s Crooked Fin­ger, Hank Early uses a mys­tery as a ve­hi­cle to dis­sect fun­da­men­tal­ist re­li­gios­ity and ex­plore themes of fa­mil­ial love, pa­tri­ar­chal op­pres­sion, racial ten­sion, and sys­tem­atic vi­o­lence.

Earl Mar­cus is a pri­vate de­tec­tive in Char­lotte, North Carolina, who has re­fused to go home to the Ge­or­gia moun­tains for three decades. He even missed his fa­ther’s fu­neral. Then he re­ceives a pho­to­graph of his fa­ther, time-stamped af­ter the date of his sup­posed death.

The pho­to­graph ar­rives cour­tesy of lo­cal sher­iff’s deputy Mary, whose dy­ing grand­mother once gave Earl refuge af­ter his fa­ther kicked him out. Back in Ge­or­gia, Earl is con­fronted by deaths, dis­ap­pear­ances, and be­liefs that his fa­ther, the snake-han­dling pas­tor of the Church of the Holy Flame, “as­cended” af­ter his death.

This seam­less yet com­plex nar­ra­tive em­ploys in­ci­dents from Earl’s youth, in­clud­ing the sem­i­nal event of Earl be­ing bit­ten by a poi­sonous cot­ton­mouth snake. To his fa­ther, the bite marked Earl as an un­re­pen­tant sin­ner.

Earl’s fa­ther, RJ, proves to be the strong­est, most nu­anced char­ac­ter in the strong cast. Else­where, the malev­o­lence of fun­da­men­tal­ism is rep­re­sented by a Holy Flame mem­ber who is “taller than a tree” and whose “eyes look like glass.” Earl is a cyn­i­cal ob­server, dam­aged emo­tion­ally by his up­bring­ing. Mary is half white and stands on un­cer­tain ground in the racist back­coun­try. She and Earl un­cover mys­ter­ies sur­round­ing lo­cal young women—some who have gone miss­ing, some who re­turned home bru­tal­ized, all who are silent.

Laced with cringe-in­spir­ing de­scrip­tions of deadly rep­tiles—“a liv­ing wall of the crea­tures,

so en­twined they pulsed as one great heart, an or­gan whose ar­ter­ies had wrapped it in a blood­black knot”—the novel’s rapid pace hur­ries to­ward a con­clu­sion that is sur­pris­ingly un­ex­pected, one per­haps at the edge of be­liev­abil­ity.

While Heaven’s Crooked Fin­ger is more hill­billy noir than clas­sic South­ern lit­er­a­ture, Hank Early has es­tab­lished a solid foun­da­tion for a new crime series.

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