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Hell at the Breech [Kindle Edition]

Tom Franklin
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $15.99
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Book Description

In 1897, an aspiring politician is mysteriously murdered in the rural area of Alabama known as Mitcham Beat. His outraged friends -- —mostly poor cotton farmers -- form a secret society, Hell-at-the-Breech, to punish the townspeople they believe responsible. The hooded members wage a bloody year-long campaign of terror that culminates in a massacre where the innocent suffer alongside the guilty. Caught in the maelstrom of the Mitcham war are four people: the aging sheriff sympathetic to both sides; the widowed midwife who delivered nearly every member of Hell-at-the-Breech; a ruthless detective who wages his own war against the gang; and a young store clerk who harbors a terrible secret.

Based on incidents that occurred a few miles from the author's childhood home, Hell at the Breech chronicles the events of dark days that led the people involved to discover their capacity for good, evil, or for both.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This immensely accomplished novel by the author of the Edgar Award-winning short story collection Poachers is based on a real-life feud in the 1890s that pitted the underclass-poor, mostly white sharecroppers-of Clarke County, Ala., against the land-owning gentry who could and did control their fate. But that simple summary does not do justice to the complex and incredibly violent events that shook the community. The seeds of the violent uprising are planted when Macky Burke, a poor, white teenage orphan living with his grandmother, the widow Gates, accidentally shoots local merchant Arch Bedsole during a holdup. Arch's enraged cousin, Quincy "Tooch" Bedsole, a down-at-the-heels farmer, cultivates those seeds with a mixture of resentment, greed and a desire for vengeance. He forms the "Hell-at-the-Breech" gang, made up of criminals and struggling white tenant farmers who but for their guns are nearly as powerless as the former slaves they compete with for work. Hell-at-the-Breech terrorizes Clarke County, exacting frontier justice (and cash) from the exploitative landowners, driving black sharecroppers out of the county and menacing the white farmers who are too law-abiding to join their ranks. Fighting the outbreak of violence is Sheriff Billy Waite, an essentially good man trying to keep the peace and administer justice in a lawless world. Despite an unremitting catalogue of violence, this gory book is a pleasure to read for its clean, unexpected turns of phrase (in a cotton field, "each tuft [is] white as a senator's eyebrow"); the laconic humor of its characters ("Rumors fly out of Mitcham Beat like hair in a catfight"); and vibrant, complex characters who spring from the pages. Franklin may have used history as a starting point, but he imagines the events in human terms, creating a book that transmutes historical fact into something much more powerful, dramatic and compelling.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* What starts as an apparent accident leads to a feudal killing spree in Franklin's accomplished account of a true story he heard while growing up in Alabama. When teenage brothers William and Mack Burke go out one night in 1897 to rob a passing horseman to get money for a whore, younger Mack's revolver accidentally discharges, hitting Arch Bedsole, a well-liked merchant and aspiring politician, as the boys run off and swear silence. But Arch's cousin, Tooch Bedsole, contends that men from an adjoining town are responsible. To avenge the killing he forms an unholy alliance of his Mitcham Beat countrymen, naming it Hell-at-the-Breech and targeting first those local men who refuse to sign its blood oath. It's up to Clarke County sheriff Billy Waite, who's feeling all of his 60 years and drinking too much, to stop the killing and curb the posse out to get the alliance. This is not a story for the faint of heart or stomach, with descriptions of violence so graphic and vivid as to seem cinematic. Yet Franklin, whose award-winning Poachers (2000) elicited comparisons to Faulkner, is a splendid stylist who explores moral issues and stocks this tale with memorable (if mostly unpleasant) characters, spinning it seemingly effortlessly to a final surprise twist. This is historical fiction at its best. Michele Leber
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 309 KB
  • Print Length: 374 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0060566760
  • Publisher: HarperCollins e-books; Reprint edition (October 13, 2009)
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000OI0EBI
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #76,315 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Evocative Prose and Historical Details Abound June 21, 2003
In his highly praised short story collection, POACHERS, Alabama native Tom Franklin mined a neglected topic --- the modern South --- for narrative gold. He created vivid, visceral stories of present-day losers and rabble-rousers, and presented them as both regular frustrated humans and red-dirt legends.
Although his follow-up novel, HELL AT THE BREECH, is set more than 100 years in the past, Franklin's sensibility for gritty Southern realism remains in tact and in fact has become one of his defining traits as a regional author. Much like its predecessor, HELL AT THE BREECH refuses to romanticize the South, its inhabitants, or the violence they perpetrate, yet Franklin holds up his male characters as examples and exemplars of various strains of Southern masculinity, examining the morality of bloodshed in all its muscular complexity.
So many things work so well in this novel about a real-life gang war in rural Alabama that it's difficult to know which to praise first or foremost. Franklin's grasp of history is strong and confident; he ably recreates not just the language and the customs of turn-of-the-century Alabama, but also its lost landscape, a terrain that seems foreign at the turn of this century: "The woods were high all around, so green it felt almost cloudy, thrashers noisy in the bracken and sparrows flitting overhead, the ground slashed like paintbrush work with the shadow of pine needles."
Evoked in patient, sculpted sentences, the rough, unforgiving woods --- especially the impenetrable Bear Thicket that separates the city of Oak Grove from the uncivilized agrarian community of Mitcham Beat --- lend the story a sense of menace and mystery, and suggest an ever-changing world that seems impossibly vast.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brutal, Uncompromising and Brilliant November 18, 2004
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book had been sitting on my bookshelf for over a year since the New York Times had placed it on their year end best of literature list.Finally getting around to reading it, it completely blew me away.Set in rural Alabama in 1897,an aspiring politician is murdered,and his friends form a secret group, Hell at the Breech,to exact revenge on the townpeople they feel were behind it. It's rough, very violent,and deftly captures the feel and time of a place so specifically you can almost feel the cold and smell the woodsap. A brilliant meditation on the evil and good that lies in every mans heart. Highly recommended.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gripping Tale of Men Pushed to the Limit July 25, 2003
Like many of the reviewers here, I was very impressed with Franklin's story collection Poachers, and especially the novella by the same name which dominated that award-winning collection. Franklin's lean style, and his obvious familiarity with the rural Alabama landscapes he portrays, remind me a little of William Gay's equally-fascinating depictions of rural Tennessee. When I saw that Franklin had a novel coming out based upon a real-life conflict set during late 19th-century Alabama, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. Hell at the Breech did not disappoint.
The novel takes its time setting the scene, and giving the reader a true sense of Mitcham's Beat, a tiny slice of rural Alabama where poor farmers have too much work to do to stop and grieve over something like a dead spouse. Two teenage brothers, Mack and William Burke, sneak out for a night on the town and during a botched robbery, a man is accidentally killed. The victim, Arch Bedsole, is a shop-owner and local politician, and his murder prompts Arch's cousin Tooch Bedsole to form a gang, with blood oaths, who would set matters right in this neck of the woods.
We find out pretty early that the gang, calling themselves "Hell at the Breech", take their group quite seriously. You are either with them or against them, and you don't want to be against them. For obvious reasons, they don't handle rejection well since anyone approached about joining then knows their identity.
Over the course of the novel Franklin skillfully blurs the distinction between good and evil, creating some ambiguity in the reader as the violence escalates.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Standing at The Gates of Hell December 10, 2003
Hell At The Breech is a fiction novel inspired by real historical events. The book is brutal, realistic and very enthralling to read. Before you know it, you'll find yourself completely hooked to this amazing story of revenge and greed. Author Tom Franklin has created a small masterpiece that should not go unoticed.
When a local man living with the poor farmers on the outskirts of Coffeeville is murdered, the common folks gather to form a group they will call Hell-at-the-Breech, a group that will have as a mission to take revenge on the greedy and rich townfolks. These cotton pickers and labourers have very little left to hang on to. As the days passes by, more and more of them are loosing whatever little they do have left to the banks and loaners, many of them even facing eviction.
In the middle of this story are Mack, a poor sixteen year old boy who will have a great role in the upheaval, and Billy Waite, the town's old Sheriff who doesn't know how to handle this sour situation. As the poor prepare to get revenge on the rich, Mack will serve as the eyes and soul of this novel, the boy who sees all but who doesn't say much. Waite, on the other hand, is trying to calm the townsfolk, especially after the gang hits the town and kills a very reputable man.
Hell breaks loose and all best are off as both sides eventually go to battle in order to get revenge and in order to preserve what they think is the right set of laws. This story could have easily gone out of hand, but Tom Franklin weaves a flawless narrative that is very balanced and very intriguing. His characters are never perfect; these are flawed men with dreams and fears who are all awaiting to get something better out of life.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Early Mafia- Western style
This takes place after the Civil War. It has a bit of a cowboy- feel to it and although I'm not into cowboys or westerns at all, Tom Franklin is such a good writer, he pulled me... Read more
Published 2 months ago by DulcineaLady
5.0 out of 5 stars Now a Tom Franklin Fan!
This was my first Tom Franklin read. I am hooked as a result. I could not put it down once I started reading it. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Rolfe J. Raines
4.0 out of 5 stars Tough characters, tough reading at times.
In rural Alabama, a prospective politician is killed. A gang of cronies, led by the man's cousin, form a secret society intending to punish whoever killed him. Read more
Published 3 months ago by "Ali"
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting local history.
Interesting read, especially since I'm familiar with the area and know some of the family names and have been in all the towns many times.
Published 3 months ago by ROCKY4570
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful!
The characters are too true to life for anybody raised in the south. Not the modern south, but the hard scrabble rough south of not so very long ago. Beautiful language.
Published 4 months ago by Jesse Lee Wooton
4.0 out of 5 stars Based upon a true story.
Tom Franklin is probably best known for his book of short stories called "Poachers". In this book he puts his story telling skills into a full southern novel which takes... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Gary E. Thorn
4.0 out of 5 stars Not too big for your breeches
This novel transports you to the turn of the 20th century (late 1890s) in backwoods lower Alabama in a story of a small-time alcoholic sheriff, a borderline psychopath vigilante, a... Read more
Published 5 months ago by W. Perry Hall
4.0 out of 5 stars Life in the raw
A brutally honest tale of a time and a place in our history. The book reveals the awful toll exacted by extreme poverty. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Mr. Thomas D. Willingham Jr.
5.0 out of 5 stars Damn!
This book was one I couldn't help but devour. It has everthing. The plot, well rounded and growing, enchanted by the detailing of imagery tickling the readers senses into the... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Christopher Weaver
2.0 out of 5 stars Terrific writing, but dark tone not for me
I really liked "crooked letter, crooked letter" so sought out other work by this author. I do think the author is very talented and I enjoy his writing style. Read more
Published 7 months ago by ajax
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More About the Author

I was born in the hamlet of Dickinson, Alabama, which has a population of around 400 and is about half-white, half-black. I attended Dickinson Baptist Church for a while. I grew up a nonhunter in a hunting household, and I liked writing, drawing, and reading. I am the first member of my family to finish college.

When I turned 18, we moved to Mobile, and my father, a mechanic, opened a shop there. I went to the University of South Alabama, but I got such bad grades that my father told me he wasn't going to pay anymore. From there, I got jobs in a warehouse, at a plant that made sandblasting grit, and finally with an engineering firm, which sent me to a chemical plant where I spent years cleaning up hazardous waste. All through these jobs, I took classes at the University of South Alabama, paying my own tuition as I went, and finally discovering creative writing classes. I worked in my late twenties, finishing my BA and beginning my MA, in a hospital in Mobile, and also tutoring in the university's writing lab. From there, I got a job teaching at Selma University, an historical all-black Baptist college. I was neither black nor Baptist (not anymore) and was, usually, the only white person on campus. I taught six classes one semester, six different classes, and five the next. I also finished my comprehensive exams for my MA, finished my thesis (a short story collection), and worked on my foreign language proficiency exam.

I'd published a few short stories and won third prize in the Playboy College Fiction Contest (around 1991), and so I decided to pursue writing as a career. I applied to several MFA programs and wound up, fortunately, at the University of Arkansas. There I met my wife, poet Beth Ann Fennelly. We got married at the end of that four-year-long program, and around the same time, I sold my first book, Poachers, and the idea for Hell at the Breech, to William Morrow. We lived apart that first year of marriage--it was hard getting teaching jobs in the same city--but moved to Galesburg, Illinois, where my wife got a job teaching at Knox College. I won the Philip Roth Residency at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and moved there for one semester. After that, we decided no more living apart.

I taught at Knox for a year, during which we had our first child, Claire. Then I was offered the John and Renee Grisham Chair in Creative Writing in Oxford, Mississippi. We moved there, planning to return to Galesburg, but never have. Beth Ann was offered a job at Ole Miss, and they named me an ongoing writer-in-residence--and there we remain to this day. Our second child, Thomas Gerald Franklin III (I'm Junior) was born in Oxford in 2005. We love Oxford and hope never to leave.

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