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Hard Cash Valley

Review

Hard Cash Valley

HARD CASH VALLEY is Brian Panowich’s third foray into the dark criminal world of McFalls County and Bull Mountain in poverty-stricken north Georgia. While it stands independently of its predecessors, LIKE LIONS and BULL MOUNTAIN, there is some bleed-through among all three titles. However, unfamiliarity with the hard lives lived in the area will not prevent your full-throated enjoyment of Panowich’s latest, which is beautifully told and full of surprises.

The proceedings get off to a fast start with the introduction of Arnie Blackwell, a loser who arrives at a budget hotel in Jacksonville, Florida. Panowich, who consistently has demonstrated an uncanny writing ability, sends the reader a telegram in the first sentence, to the effect that Arnie is not long for this world. Sure enough, his star-crossed life --- and death --- will intersect with that of Dane Kirby, a part-time agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI).

"[U]nfamiliarity with the hard lives lived in the area will not prevent your full-throated enjoyment of Panowich’s latest, which is beautifully told and full of surprises."

Dane’s vocational resume includes employment as the fire chief and arson investigator for McFalls County, as well as an interim stint as the sheriff for neighboring Fannin County. He is helping his successor in the latter position conduct the initial investigation of an apparent murder --- one in which an old friend of his is caught literally barehanded --- when he gets the order to report immediately to Jacksonville to assist the FBI in an arson/murder investigation.

There is more to it than that, though, as Dane soon discovers when he is paired with Special Agent Roselita Velasquez of the FBI. The two get off to a very prickly start that doesn’t improve much when it develops that the case includes the Filipino Mafia and a high-stakes, World Series-type cockfighting event that basically has taken place in Dane’s backyard. The main prize is Arnie’s younger brother, a gifted boy on the Asperger’s spectrum whose special talent will be a curse in the wrong hands.

If that isn’t enough, Dane, who remains physically and emotionally damaged from an accident that killed his wife and child several years ago, has a time bomb riding inside of him that he is trying to conceal --- ultimately unsuccessfully --- from his current significant other. He is underweight and outclassed, but still possesses an uncompromising urge to do the right thing, even when it might be wrong. Not everyone feels that way here, and in roughly the last third of the book, Dane experiences a series of twists, turns and double-crosses that will take every bit of his skill and knowledge to get through, if indeed he can.

Panowich’s fiction is as dark as it gets. Appearing in one of his books, particularly in HARD CASH VALLEY, is a tough gig, but his plotting and complications keep things moving quickly for the reader and for the unfortunate individuals who populate the novel. Hopefully, there are plenty of new characters to keep the stories of this hardscrabble, crime-ridden area coming for the foreseeable future.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 15, 2020

Hard Cash Valley
by Brian Panowich

  • Publication Date: May 5, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250206928
  • ISBN-13: 9781250206923