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Dry Bones in the Valley: A Novel Hardcover – July 7, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

When an unidentified body is found under a boulder on an old man’s land in rural Pennsylvania, the murder investigation reveals that the patchwork assembly of area law enforcement is paper-thin. And, when a second body is discovered, the lawmen find themselves even more shorthanded. Wild Thyme Township police officer Henry Farrell, a bearded, brooding veteran, throws himself into the case, working past the point of exhaustion and neglecting his own health as he navigates personal boundaries that must be considered in the context of property lines. A landscape wracked by fracking, poverty, meth, and a general mistrust of authority places this squarely in the burgeoning country-noir tradition, as does the fact that Bouman peoples his story with lawless outdoorsmen with Gaelic names and ancient grudges. (Farrell, who plays a passable fiddle, used music to court his bodhran-beating wife.) A dark ending unearths a long-held secret but leaves enough ambiguity to suggest plenty of tales to tell in future installments. A strong debut for readers who like their woods dark and deep. --Keir Graff


“A tough, edgy thriller that asks hard questions about the destruction of our environment, our local communities, and our families. Readers of smart literary thrillers are going to love this novel. I wish like hell that my name were on the cover.” (Wiley Cash, New York Times best-selling author of A Land More Kind Than Home)

“Raymond Chandler said that Hammett took murder away from the manor houses and gave it back to the people who actually commit it. Tom Bouman continues that tradition. Bouman's story is deceptively simple, layered with history, bearing the promise of lightness, of redemption.” (James Sallis, author of Drive)

“Tom Bouman is a remarkable new voice in contemporary fiction. Dry Bones in the Valley is a tightly crafted piece of rural noir that seems pulled from the earth itself, a profound look at the dark corners of rural America. Readers of Daniel Woodrell and Donald Ray Pollock will find much to love.” (Steve Weddle, author of Country Hardball)

“It's a mystery, yes, but it's also a love story between a man and the land and people he knows like the back of his hand. Dry Bones in the Valley is a gorgeous, lived-in novel, and Bouman's turns of phrase are chest-clutching in their beauty.” (Hannah Pittard, author of The Fates Will Find Their Way)

“So smooth it's as if it was written on spring water. Shadowy, swift, impossible to put down. I was enraptured. Any justice and this writer will soon be a major star.” (Joe R. Lansdale, author of Deadman’s Road)

“Officer Henry Farrell is a shy man, but in his own ways just as ornery and tough as the cast of rugged characters who inhabit his Pennsylvania woods, where the mysteries are as old as love and grief. A rural cop with a keen intelligence and a wounded heart, Henry’s the right man to unearth the secrets of Dry Bones in the Valley. Tom Bouman’s debut novel is one you won’t want to miss.” (Ed Falco, author of The Family Corleone)

“[An] outstanding debut… Henry’s growth from a grief-stricken widower to a lawman with an inner resolve fuels the brisk plot, as does an evocative look at a changing landscape.” (Publishers Weekly, Starred review)

“Bouman’s debut shows rural noir at its finest: a poetically written mystery about a man struggling with his inner demons and an area of great natural beauty few had heard of before the natural gas boom.” (Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review)

“Grit-lit meets wry suspense, along with a keen rendering of place and politics.” (New York Magazine (Six Books to Read this Summer))

“Some stories are so sad, you want them to have the comfort of a gentle storytelling voice. Tom Bouman extends this kindness in… his beautifully written first novel.” (Marilyn Stasio - New York Times Book Review)

“[Incorporates] literary elements―thick atmosphere, regional rootedness, social scope―into an actual fast-paced mystery series.” (Boris Kachka - New York Magazine)

“An exciting and disturbing debut… Bouman brings his world to life with texture that gives every room and vehicle and person a history and character, keeping us immersed in this mesmerizing and often terrifying story.” (Michael Sims - Washington Post)

“Debut author Tom Bouman is a gem… Recommended for your end of summer pleasure.” (Joe Hartlaub - Book Reporter)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (July 7, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393243028
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393243024
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #212,406 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 36 people found the following review helpful By jean p on July 5, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I read this first novel after a positive review in the Crime section of the New York Times. I read a lot of fiction, especially mystery/crime. This is the best thing I've read this year. The first person narrator, Harry, sounds like he is a guy telling you a story by a campfire, the voice is that real. I don't know that I've given a five-star rating since Louise Erdrich's Round House, but I don't hesitate with this book. Read it people!!
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Angie Lisle on June 20, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I received a free advanced copy of this book in exchange for a review.

This Appalachian murder-mystery is more mountain ballad than cozy, but unlike the mountain ballads, this story is about modern Appalachia, drawing on current issues like meth-labs and gas-drilling that's destroying/poisoning the natural environment. Some people may not like the tone of the book - it's a melancholic-romance, typical of the mountain ballads and what cozy can be found is in the heritage of the mountain ballads that it resembles.

In places, the prose is beautiful and quotable, if I had a copy of the finished product to quote, but there are a couple patchy spots where one paragraph doesn't blend seamlessly into the next.

I love that I didn't solve the murder until the end. The mystery is wrapped up in many threads - some focused more on introducing Officer Henry Farrell's world -Wild Thyme, Pennsylvania- than the murder, but this was used in a way that made the investigation feel more realistic than what's usually found in cozy-mysteries. I will be watching for the second installment of this series.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By the ReviewNotes TOP 500 REVIEWER on July 2, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Dry Bones in the Valley by Tom Bouman is a dark mystery thriller set in rural northeastern Pennsylvania. Tucked away in this almost forgotten corner is the sleepy small town of Wild Thyme. The town comes to life when natural gas drilling started in the area, bringing wealth to the people who have been living in perpetual poverty. But it comes with a heavy! It sowed the seed of discord as some people are against fracking while others welcome it as a boon. Drugs and illegal activities are on the rise.

When an unidentified corpse is discovered by a half-crazy elderly person, it is up to policeman Henry Farrell to put into use for the first time in his career what he has been trained to do. The investigation leads to the unraveling of old crimes which have serious consequences in the present. Henry Farrell has to tread cautiously as it is much more complicated than it appeared to be. Author Tom Bouman writes a story that is interesting, absorbing and suspenseful. The characters are well-developed, the storyline is quite original and the plot twists and turns will keep the reader engaged to the very last page.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By T. Donovan on July 23, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book on the basis of a rave review from the Washington Post. I agree with the reviewer that this is an outstanding debut. Some points, both good and bad:

1. I have spent some time in the area where this novel it set and have never encountered anything like the life described by this author. For a writer to give me a completely different view of a familiar landscape was just fantastic.
2. He is just a good writer. A weak point here and there was more than balanced by some passages of truly terrific writing.
3. On the minus side, he left some loose ends. It seems to be common practice nowadays to leave readers hanging in some way. In a mystery novel I just find this unacceptable. In this case, we learned who committed the crime but not how or why. Very unsatisfying,
4. Also on the minus side, I have to question the wisdom of inventing for a detective a cop so introverted and avoidant of human company that he misses important things going on under his nose in his own office.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By E. Weiss on July 26, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
For me, the best part of this book is the author's evocation of a world completely new to me: the marginal, poor, unemployed and largely uneducated world of a piece of mountainous and rural northeast Pennsylvania. The pervasive presence of drugs - mostly meth - has essentially completed the marginalization of large parts of this community. The problem is that the sheer hopelessness of the situation made it difficult going - toward the end, I was tempted to disengage. But the author writes very well and he has created a character in the tenacious small-town cop with a heartbreaking back story who could carry a series if the reader was given some reason to hope for him.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Listener in Portland on July 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Great, sinister, surprising book. Henry Farrell, the narrator and protagonist, is a wonderful and curious, indefatigable sad sack; early on, he eats a cold waffle with peanut butter on it--liked him, immediately--and I'm not sure he ate or slept from the rest of the book. Concussed, confused, bedeviled by his past, he gets to the bottom of some very surprising mysteries. At its heart, this is a strange thriller-mystery, and it should be said that it satisfies on all levels; I mean, I really read with abandon, wanted to know what would happen, and then I would surprise. But other thrillers that I've read have often disappointed me on the level of writing; they can be rife with cliches and lazy/bad characterization (in my highbrow opinion); Bouman writes so beautifully, here, and the patience with which he builds his world and brings dimension to a wide cast of characters is really a wonder. Also, plenty of wilderness know-how and firearms and ATVs!
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