What a most unusual and wonderful tale this has proved to be. Having never read anything by Ronald Kelly before I was attracted to this book by the horrific and gruesome paperback cover depicting a snake like evil entity. Naturally I was expecting the story to take me on a macabre journey where most of the residents of Pikesville, located in the middle of Mangrum County, would be devoured by this ravenous monster! This book however is so much more than that; it is the story of 10 year old Jeb Sweeney as he begins to make the painful transition from the innocence of childhood to the challenges of adulthood. I loved the randomness of the story from the quiet opening with all the smells and sounds of downtown Pikesville, from the repartee and banter of Mr Drewer’s barbershop to the almost “wizard of oz” feel of the perilous journey into Fear County.
The snake-critter “some sort of half –dog, half-snake with big yellow-green eyes, long fangs, and a shiny coat of black scales” is terrorizing the citizens of Pikesville draining their blood and holding them hostage in his lair, a cave on the south bank of the Cumberland river. Jeb knows the only way to defeat this demon is to travel to the house of the Granny Woman for a magical potion to destroy it. On that journey he will be accompanied by legendary bluesman Roscoe Ledbetter and his father Sam who is mentally handicapped having been wounded in the 2WW.
The story moves at a frenetic pace and every chapter is littered with breathtaking adventure and wonderful characters. We meet the snake queen, Ezelical Gallow, the Kudzu, Buckshot and we travel to Paradise Hollow, Adder Swamp, Lynching Springs. Jed’s adventures take place in the evil and adjacent Fear County “it had been named Fear a hundred years or so ago because that was the emotion the dark and desolate country conjured the most”
This novel is part thriller, part fantasy, part horror and it will make you laugh, cry, and contemplate in equal measure. It portrays through the eyes of Jeb the type of world we live in, both the good and bad, and how the decisions that we take effect those we love the most. It is a story of family, want, need, it is at times sad but ultimately it shows how the power of friendship, kin and understanding are the most vital characteristics of the human condition.