2011; reissued 2020 (Poisoned Pen Press)
In 1964, farmer and part-time Constable Ned Parker combine forces with John Washington, the almost mythical black deputy sheriff from nearby Paris, to track down a disturbed individual who is rapidly becoming a threat to the entire small Texas community of Center Springs.
When Ned is summoned to a hot cornfield one morning to examine the remains of a tortured bird dog, he finds a dark presence in their quiet community. A farmer by trade, Ned is usually confident when it comes to handling moonshiners, drunks and domestic disputes. But the animal atrocities turn to murder, and the investigation spins beyond his abilities.
After a dizzying series of twists, eccentric characters and dead-ends, Ned’s friend, cranky Judge O.C. Rains, is forced to contact the FBI. Worse, sinister warnings that his family has been targeted by the killer lead Ned to the startling discovery that he knows the murderer very well. After the failed abduction of his precocious grandchildren Top and Pepper, the old lawman becomes judge and jury to end the murder spree in the Red River bottomlands.
With a heart-pounding pace, country humor and a stunning climax speaks to the darkness in us all. In bald-headed pot-bellied Ned Parker, Wortham has created an authentic American hero who will put you in mind of the best heroes and antiheroes you’ve ever experienced.
The year 1964 was the end of an era in Center Springs, and the climax may well shock your civilized sensibilities.
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Chosen by Kirkus as one of the 12 best novels of 2011! “An accomplished first novel about life and murder in a small Texas town… Wortham tells a story of grace under pressure, of what happens when a deranged and vicious predator decides that they’re his promised prey… a fast and furious climax, written to the hilt, harrowing in its unpredictability. Not just scary but funny too, as Wortham nails time and place in a sure-handed, captivating way. There’s a lot of good stuff in this unpretentious gem. Don’t miss it.”
“Wortham, who hails from rural Texas, is writing about people and a place he knows very well, and this knowledge shows: his laid-back writing style, robust characters, and dialogue that sounds like it’s spoken by actual people combine to tell a story that, even though it features one of the mystery genre’s most overused themes (conspiracy), feels completely realistic. Another winner from a writer who seems to produce nothing but winners.”
—Booklist on The Rock Hole re-release
“Throughout, scenes of hunting, farming, and family life sizzle with detail and immediacy. The dialog is spicy with country humor and color, and Wortham knows how to keep his story moving. The Rock Hole is an unnerving but fascinating read.”
—Historical Novels Review
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