Heaven’s Crooked Finger, by Hank Early

34507291It’s not unusual for fictional characters to have issues with their parents. Parental drama is a great way to create a fraught backstory for a character. But Earl Marcus’ issues with his father are rather more spectacular in Hank Early’s mystery, Heaven’s Crooked FingerEarl has not returned to the mountains of northern Georgia since he turned 18, a few years after his father handed him a cottonmouth snake in an attempt to prove Earl’s godliness (or lack thereof). He didn’t even go back when his father died. But now that there’s a possibility that Earl’s father faked his death, Earl reluctantly returns to investigate.

Things haven’t changed much in the Finger Mountains of northern Georgia in the thirty years Earl’s been gone. The Church of the Holy Flame, his father’s snake-handling, fundamentalist church, is still running the show. The local sheriff is a partner with the church’s leaders. No one wants to talk to Earl about his father’s possible “resurrection.” His only ally is also the only black, female sheriff’s deputy in the county. Between the two of them, Earl and Mary slowly start to figure out what happened to Earl’s father and a few other people who’ve gone missing since.

Snake-handlers in Kentucky, 1946. (Image via Wikicommons and the National Archives)

While the mysteries are certainly interesting, and Mary and Earl have a tricky time solving them considering their lack of support from the rest of the sheriff’s department, I was more interested in Earl’s biography. When we meet him at the beginning of the novel, Earl is a struggling private investigator and alcoholic. He is haunted by his memories of what his father did to him and the rest of the congregation: the snakes, the fire and brimstone, the obsession with sin. Not only does Earl’s return to the mountains mean a chance to solve some mysteries, but it means a chance for the detective to try to come to terms with his past and the damage he suffered.

Earl’s home county is a very sick place. Earl and his partner, Mary, blow through it like a whopping dose of penicillin. Between Earl’s originally awful backstory, the mysteries, and the strangeness of the Church’s tenets, I found Heaven’s Crooked Finger an intriguing read.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. It will be released 7 November 2017.

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