Most of the crimes in Frank Bill’s Crimes In Southern Indiana are crimes of passion, though even the premeditated crimes tend to go awry and lead to more crimes of passion. All seven deadly sins are accounted for, if you count meth addiction as a form of gluttony. Villains outnumber heroes by a wide margin, and many of the heroes are heroic simply by default.
A number of these short stories are simply pistol-whipping pulp, or blood-spattered snapshots of the American nightmare. And more often than not, these vicious vignettes are intensely gripping. Yet a few stories dig in deeper, richer soil. “The Penance Of Scoot McCutchen” has one of the book’s most sympathetic characters coping with his wife’s deteriorating health, and his own crushing guilt. An unfortunate mishap in “The Accident” leads to a surreal and unforgettable descent into madness. “The Old Mechanic” starts out looking like a one-dimensional portrait of an abusive husband, but soon explores the complications of redemption and forgiveness.
Crimes In Southern Indiana will probably remind you of Cormac McCarthy’s bleak hellscapes, or less comedic versions of the Coen Brothers’ darker tales, or Breaking Bad‘s tweaked-out brutality. However, the book’s portrayal of Southern Indiana also reminds me of Stephen King’s Southwestern Maine- if only all the references to supernatural forces had been edited out. In Frank Bill’s world, humans are monsters just because– which is usually way more terrifying.