DANIEL WOODRELL – Give Us a Kiss. Henry Holt, hardcover, 1996. Pocket, paperback, 1998. Little Brown & Company, softcover, 2012.

   Woodrell is on my list of under-appreciated modern crime writers. His three books featuring the Shade family of Louisiana – the first two (Muscle for the Wing and Under the Bright Lights) focus on René, a cop in the bayou town of Bruno, and the last (The Ones You Do) on his scapegrace wandering father – are all outstanding examples of dark, down-and-dirty regional fiction. He has changed his setting here from the Louisiana bayou to the Missouri Ozarks, and this one is billed as “A Country Noir.”

   Doyle Redmond is from an Ozark clan that always been about half mean, and the other half outlaws. He’s bred true in a lot of ways, but he’s also made a writer out of himself, and been living out in California with a would-be poet wife. She takes up with a real poet, though, so he steals her car and loads up his favorite books – he never did get more than half housebroke, you see – and heads back to Missouri to see his folks in Kansas City.

   They talk him into going back down to the Ozarks to hunt for his older brother, Smoke, who’s sort of wanted by the law. He finds him, and one thing leads to another, and before you know it, he’s involved in a dope-growing deal and lusting after his brother’s woman’s young daughter, But then the fun begins.

   This is probably the best novel I’ve read this year. What I’ve written above gives you no idea of the flavor of the book, but there’s no way I could without quoting large chunks of it. There isn’t any sort of mystery or detective story, and I guess “country noir” isn’t too far from the mark. The voices … well, unique is an awfully big word, but it’s certainly a distinctive one, and one you’ll savor and won’t soon forget.

   Woodrell’s people are hard people, and they’re real people, though you’ve probably never known any of them. This isn’t genre fiction, but it’s damned good fiction, maybe award quality. Read it.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #24, March 1996.