Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Reavis Z. Wortham is the author of The Rock Hole, hailed by Kirkus Reviews as one of the Top 12 Mystery Novels of 2011. A finalist for the Benjamin Franklin Award, the second novel in this Red River Series, Burrows, recently received a starred review from Publishers Weekly: "Wortham's outstanding sequel to The Rock Hole (2011)... combines the gonzo sensibility of Joe R. Lansdale and the elegiac mood of To Kill a Mockingbird to strike just the right balance between childhood innocence and adult horror."

Wortham applied the Page 69 Test to Burrows and reported the following:
Burrows picks up the story line only months after The Rock Hole’s surprise ending. The Parker family is physically and mentally healing from their experiences with a serial killer, and the tight-knit rural community of Center Springs returns to life as usual in the northeast Texas bottomlands, circa 1965.

As the weeks pass, Ned’s grandchildren, ten-year-old Top and his tomboy cousin Pepper, struggle with personal issues resulting from their traumatic experiences at the Rock Hole. They now find themselves in the middle of a nightmare for which no one can prepare.

Lyndon B. Johnson is President, Beatlemania is in overdrive and gasoline costs 30 cents a gallon when Ned Parker retires as constable in Center Springs, Texas. But his plan to live a quiet life as a cotton farmer will soon change. A phone call leads Ned to a body in the Red River and the discovery rips him out of retirement to help his nephew, the newly elected constable Cody Parker. Together they work to head off a multi-state killing spree that sets northeast Texas on fire.

Cody and Deputy John Washington, the law south of the tracks, follow a lead from their small community to the long abandoned Cotton Exchange warehouse in Chisum. Stunned, they find the Exchange packed full of the town’s cast off garbage and riddled with booby-trapped passageways and dark burrows. Despite Ned’s warnings, Cody enters the building and finds himself relying on his recent military experiences to save both himself and Big John. Unfortunately, the trail doesn’t end there and the killing spree continues until the river exacts its own justice.

On page 69, Ned Parker, his nephew Cody Parker, and Judge O.C. Rains are in their usual rearmost booth in Frenchie’s café, Chisum’s local hole-in-the-wall eatery just down the street from the county courthouse.
O.C. sipped his coffee. “Well, anyway, back to what we were talking about. Kendal is still out there and I’ve got a pretty good idea him and that partner of his killed Josh and them, and that Jennings boy not long after. Now we can’t find hide nor hair of Kendal, and all those investigators think he’s still around here. He knows enough people in this county that he can stay hid the rest of his life.

“The investigators have set up shop down in the basement at the courthouse, but they’re thinking he’s gone back north. They told me they’d be out moving tomorrow and searching up in the Kiamichi, because they got a tip he was hiding up around Cloudy.”

“I’m not sure of that.” Cody worried his coffee cup. “I’ll nose around and see what I turn up, but I doubt we’ll see him, though, unless he gets drunk and runs into somebody.”

“That’s what might happen,” Ned told him. “It’s the screwy things that get people caught. I’ve seen it.”

“You saw a lot when you were constable,” Cody said. “Which of those old stories have stuck with you the most?”

Ned’s eyes twinkled. The ones I ain’t telling you.”

Ned motioned for O.C. to lean in. They spoke quietly for a moment, knowing that everyone in the café listened to their conversations. “I’m hearing that folks are starting to worry that The Skinner might have come back to town and killed that feller and dumped his body in the river.”

O.C.’s eyebrows rose.

“What have you said?”

“Told the ones that asted me that it wasn’t nothin’ like what The Skinner had done, and that I thought he’d gone to Mexico.”
Their discussion is insightful in two ways. The tight-knit community has always helped those in need, and relatives especially take care of their own, even those who have broken the law and are on the run. It was that way when the Center Springs was founded in the mid-1800s, and continues to this day. Ned finds himself working within their own support system to find a demon who takes trophy heads of his victims.

On this same page, the Skinner once again surfaces in conversation. He terrorized the county in The Rock Hole, and disappeared at the novel’s climax. Local residents fear his return and that the Skinner is now taking heads.

This new threat, the dark secrets the Parkers and Judge Rains must keep, and their struggles to preserve a rapidly changing way of life in the mid-1960s show that Camelot is truly gone, and life continues in a world gone awry.
Learn more about the book and author at Reavis Z. Wortham's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Rock Hole.

My Book, The Movie: The Rock Hole.

Writers Read: Reavis Z. Wortham (June 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue