A Single Shot: creepy backwoods crime suspense novel

I always bring a dead tree book with me on flights, because I need something to do in the time during which passengers are forbidden from using electronic devices (I can't bear to sit quietly with my thoughts for 15 minutes on a plane; I need a distraction). If the book is excellent, I'll continue to read it after the all-clear signal is given, instead of turning on my phone or tablet and fiddling with it for the next several hours.

This week I flew from Los Angeles to Dallas/Ft. Worth, and I brought along Matthew F Jones' novel A Single Shot, originally published in 1996, and reissued in paperback by Mulholland Books in 2011. The publisher sent it to me in 2011, and it had been sitting on my review pile since then. I grabbed it off the stack and stashed it into my bag before heading to LAX. As soon as the flight attendant instructed us to turn off our cell phones, I pulled out the book and started reading.

An hour later I realized that we were in the air. I was unaware that the plane had taken off. I read for the entire flight, gripped by the story of a hunter in upstate New York who accidentally shoots and kills a teenage girl while hunting a deer out of season, and his efforts to conceal it. Like Scott Smith's novel A Simple Plan, A Single Shot reveals the tragic consequences of trying to to cover up a mistake. And like A Simple Plan, A Single Shot includes a bag filled with large-denomination currency, which the poacher takes from the camp site of the girl he killed. Naturally, others are interested in the money.

In the introduction to the novel, Daniel Woodrell, author of (Winter's Bone), calls A Single Shot "one of the finest novels of rural crime and moral horror in the past few decades." I can't argue with that, mainly because I haven't read many novels about rural crime. Woodrell also declared Jones to be a "twisted motherfucker." I don't agree with that assessment, though. The protagonist in A Single Shot is a twisted motherfucker, and the people who come after him are scarily twisted motherfuckers, but Jones strikes me a deeply moral person with tremendous insight and an impressive talent for telling an addictively engrossing story.

A Single Shot


  1. It’s scary to me that someone can’t sit still and think for 15 minutes without needing a distraction.  Deep thought is meditative and restorative, at least for me.

    1. When I go for a walk or sit in the sun, I can space out for a long time. But airplanes are a different story for me – I guess I’m a bit nervous. I’m happy for you that you can sit still and quietly on a plane.

      1. I’m not classically claustrophobic, but I sure as hell am on a plane while it’s on the ground. Especially if they don’t have the air on. So I completely agree with the balm a great novel provides.

        And total flow experience, to the point of lost time? What a fantastic compliment to the work. The most recent experience I had with that was finally reading Old Man’s War… spent triple my intended exercise time while reading it, then hobbled around with aching knees that afternoon getting everything else Scalzi’s written.

      2. These days, if you were sitting quietly on the plane with your eyes closed, you might be flagged for abnormal behavior and dragged off to interrogation.

          1. Seriously, people get shaken down by cops and security for meditating in public parks.

  2. Mark, I love your distinction between the author and the work– in many cases, to be a writer aware of morality means to splice the fibre of insanity and jurisprudence.  It means to cut, but not deeply; to show horror, but not *be* horror.  

    1. In contrast, I’m slightly bothered by evidence that Daniel Woodrell, a fellow author, may be unable to distinguish between writer and written. But I imagine this is due to his making an intro and not a critique. I hope.

  3. I came on to compliment you on losing an hour from boarding through flight because you were absorbed in a great story. I’m not sorry that you can’t go 15 minutes without distraction. Context is everything. And 15 minutes in an aeronautic tube filled with people of various personal issues is not quality time. An hour getting lost in text that feels like life is.

  4. Thanks Mark, I don’t think that I’d even heard of the Mulholland Books imprint before now. They’ve got some great looking stuff on their web site.

  5. I too was disturbed by the confession of not being able to spend 15 minutes without a distraction. This poses a question which leads to others:

    There are thoughts. There is you. (“my thoughts”)

    Who are you?

    Sitting quietly (more formally “meditation”) actually acts as a kind of sieve, where consciousness (you) is gradually separated from thoughts. Thoughts are a kind of “stuff” in the internal world, as are feelings, and all kinds of sensations. All things that are experienced are “stuff”, and temporal, finite.It’s worth experiencing that separation, as it can be a place to retreat when there are no other choices “shit…I forgot my BOOK!”

    Best Wishes.

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