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