Monday, October 10, 2016

Book Review: "The More They Disappear" by Jesse Donaldson

Part crime novel, part lament on the affect that drugs, poverty, and the hunger for power have on a small town, Jesse Donaldson's The More They Disappear is an atmospheric thriller and fascinating character study, truly evoking imagery of life in a downtrodden small town.

In 1998, Lew Mattock is running for re-election to an unprecedented fourth term as sheriff of Marathon, a small town in Kentucky. Lew's success as sheriff isn't just because he has been tough on crime—he's greased more than his share of palms (and had his palm greased more than a few times), and he's not afraid to use his power wherever it's needed. But when Lew is murdered during a campaign event, most of Marathon's citizens are saddened to see this fixture of their town meet his end.

The task of finding Lew's murderer falls to Harlan Dupee, Lew's chief deputy, more because Lew wanted someone on the force he didn't feel threatened by as his second-in-command. Introspective, and still mourning the tragic death of his girlfriend a few years earlier, Harlan never really had any ambition to be sheriff, but he knows that investigating this crime is his duty. And the more investigating he does, the more he uncovers a massive web of greed, intimidation, secrets, addiction, and corruption, and Lew was smack in the middle of it all.

While Harlan wants to find out the truth behind what caused Lew's murder, his discoveries also force him to revisit his own loneliness, and the destruction that is being wrought in Marathon as a result of the introduction of OxyContin. He wonders if uncovering the truth can actually save Marathon and those being torn apart by Lew's death, including Lew's widow and son, or whether the town will be able to survive the poverty and despondence that is slowly eating away at it.

It's always interesting reading a crime novel when you know who the perpetrator is, and pretty much know how everything unfolded, but you need to wait for the protagonist to figure it out. Even though that seems like it might be a boring read, in Donaldson's hands, this book is completely compelling. Marathon is not unlike many small towns in the U.S., and you find yourself both hoping the truth will be uncovered so the town might be able to start fresh, and hoping the status quo can remain.

There are a lot of interesting characters in this book, and Harlan is far from the slow-seeming sad sack that he appeared to be at the start. Donaldson made you care about these characters, and how they are affected by what has transpired, and his storytelling ability is really quite strong. Thanks to his use of evocative imagery, I could picture Marathon pretty clearly in my head, and found it both fascinating and sad.

While this may lack the suspense of many crime novels, The More They Disappear, is more than a crime novel. It's a great read, and a great look at a town caught in the cross-hairs of poverty and greed.

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