Life is hard in the corner of the Smoky Mountains where the Hooper, Moody and Brewer families live. Drug abuse is rampant. Jobs are scarce. And some folks put food on the table and money in their pockets by poaching.
Darl Moody and Carol “Sissy” Brewer are both doing just that one chilly morning. Unfortunately, they’re doing it in the same place. Sissy is on his hands and knees, stealing a neighbor’s ginseng crop. Darl is in a blind, hoping to shoot a deer out of season. But Darl ends up shooting Sissy.
“The Line That Held Us” (Putnam, $27) is David Joy’s third novel about life in a region where family roots run deep and some people live by a code that puts them outside of the law. The book’s title is in the past tense because, in this tale, the line between civilization and savagery doesn’t hold.
In a panic, Darl asks his best friend Calvin Hooper to help him cover up the accident by burying Sissy’s body. Calvin wants to call the police, but he relents when Darl reminds him what Sissy’s big bother Dwayne Brewer is like — a hard-drinking brute who spends his time brawling, breaking down and reassembling his pistol, stealing chain saws, rereading his Bible and resenting neighbors and tourists who have it easier than he does.
Devoted to family despite his abusive childhood, Dwayne deeply loves sweet, simple-minded Sissy and has been known to savagely beat anyone who bullies the younger brother.
When Sissy fails to return from his ginseng-poaching trip, both Dwayne and a by-the-book police detective he doesn’t respect set out to learn why.
The result is a chilling tale of vengeance that ends well for no one. It is well told in a voice that is lyrical in its descriptions of the region’s natural beauty and graphic in its depictions of violence and death — but isn’t a book for fans of thrillers or whodunnits in which the good guys always win.