Gods of Howl Mountain takes us far down onto the Southern Literary Trail, deep into the mountains of North Carolina. Taylor Brown has created a very dark, intense, somewhat mysterious tale of bootlegging, clan wars and folk healing set in the turbulent 1950s.
Rory Docherty, a Korean War hero, has returned home to live with his grandmother, a folk healer. There he runs whiskey for one of the most powerful bootleggers in the mountains. It is also where he fights his demons – from the war, the loss of his men and his leg, the past that took his father from him at the hands of his own mother. This is a very noir, but realistic, look at the mountain folk of the south throughout twentieth century – not just the 1950s but even, somewhat, today. There are secrets, mysteries, the unknown, that are easier to hide in the mountains than they are in the open land.
This is not a “thriller” or even a suspense novel, but a slow moving tale of these mountain people. There were times that I felt there was too much emphasis on description and too little on the actual plot. However, southern writers tend to be more descriptive and disquisitional so that should be taken into account.
Brown has been compared to Wiley Cash and Cormac McCarthy, both of whom are favorite authors of mine. Although all three write dark, atmospheric tales set in the south, there is a depth that is missing in this Brown novel that would prohibits it being placed in a category with the others. I do see a similarity between Brown’s characters and those of Flannery O’Connor; whether or not that is intentional or a product of southern literature, I’m unsure.
Gods of Howl Mountain is not going to be a book for everyone, however, if you like good, narrative fiction with great detail to character development and setting, then you will enjoy reading Taylor Brown. 3.5 stars rounded up to 4 for quality.