Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Book Review: 'The Hunter of Hertha' by Tess Collins

San Francisco based author Tess Collins has a background rich in the kinds of experiences that suggest fodder for a wealth of novels. Born in Middlesboro, Kentucky (in what is reported to be the site of an asteroid crater millions of years ago) Collins describes herself as a `coal miner's granddaughter who spent her early years listening to mountain tales of haunted hollows, ghosts, moonshiners and unsolved murders.' She earned a degree in journalism form the University of Kentucky while also studying creative writing, receiving the Oswald Award for Creative Writing while under the tutelage of Kentucky Poets Laureate Gurney Norman and James Baker Hall, and with novelist and essayist Ed McClanahan - an experience resulting in the publication of five novels NOTOWN, HELEN OF TROY, THE LAW OF REVENGE, THE LAW OF THE DEAD, and THE LAW OF BETRAYAL as well as HOW THEATER MANAGERS MANAGE (she has a PhD in Theater Management from The Union Institute and University). Moving to San Francisco in 1979 she pursued her theater management training by becoming manager of San Francisco's Curran Theatre.

THE HUNTER OF HERTHA is a continuation of NOTOWN and the story is even more rich if the reader has had the pleasure of reading Book 1 of the series. But fascinating enough at the end of this novel, Tess offers some notes about her feelings that are a part of this plot: `I have come face-to-face with strangers that I believe had the intention of killing me four times in my life. The first time I couldn't have been more than seven or eight years old and had wandered away from my grandmother's yard with the plan of going to see my other grandmother, who lived about a mile away....It would be years before I realized that people kill people ...Women live by the good graces of men who decide not to kill us. Once that decision is made to kill, there's very little we can do.' That is shared because it adds a flavor of the depth of understanding of the plot of this book. As Tess offers a summary, ` Connor Herne loves the eastern Kentucky mountains. When he finds barrels of nuclear waste in a secluded hollow, he never imagines that years later his daughter will suffer the consequences. After a high school friend's car is blown up, he can no longer ignore that people he'd trusted his entire life are murdering the land as well as anybody who gets in their way. With the help of a blue man, a country preacher, and a childhood renegade, he plots the downfall of a small town dynasty only to discover the key to his own mysterious past.'

Another inimitable aspect of Tess' writing skill is to work in history as the substrate of her on going plot. Example, in Prologue One - May 1938, she writes, `What a seven-year-old sees as magical, mysterious, or even frightening, an adult knows as hard reality: an eclipse is the paltry darkness of nature. Preachers point to sin, blaming the hardworking for their own diseases, leaving the bitter taste of hopeless despair. In those years of poverty and hunger when leaders promised a New Deal, people in Appalachia distrusted political recovery. Very little of it had come their way, and what good was in their lives came from scratching a living from absentee employers made wealthy through their toil--employers with names like Rockefeller, Delano, Morgan, Mellon, and Ford.' In doing this she establishes credence to a story that, while fiction, takes on a sense of reality that makes the story even more terrifying. She is one solid craftsman. Follow her closely! Grady Harp, June 15

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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