Don’t Know Tough

Mysterious Book Report No. 489

by John Dwaine McKenna

Don’t Know Tough, (Soho Crime, $24.95, 336 pages, ISBN 978-1-64129-345-7), by Eli Cranor,  is the apex of Southern Noir.  Placed in Denton, Arkansas, it’s hard-boiled, gut-wrenching, poignant, gritty, emotional, brutal, savage, raw, and stunningly authentic.  It’s a novel  you’ll never forget, and it’s hard to believe that it’s Mr. Cranor’s debut.  He speaks with authority and his characters are heartbreakingly real . . . they’re the type of individuals we’ve all known, heard about, or might even be related to.

Like a lot of small towns, Denton lives and dies on the prospects of its football team, The Pirates.  This year the team is headed to the playoffs—maybe even the state championship—but it all rests on the shoulders of their best player and star running back, Billy Lowe . . . a troubled young man who lives in a squalid, run down and filthy two bedroom trailer next to a chicken processing plant with his little brother, unstable mother and her abusive boyfriend named Travis, who terrorizes, tortures and beats all three of them.  Billy takes his hostility out on the football field.  But then, just before the first playoff game, after being intentionally burned by Travis with a cigarette, Billy crosses a line and hurts another team member during practice.  It’s a brutal attack, inflicted savagely upon an affluent boy whose father is friends with the school principal, who demands that Billy be benched for the next game as punishment for his actions.  If he is, the Pirates don’t stand a chance.  That creates a problem and a morale dilemma for their new head football coach from California.  He’s desperate to go back to the west coast with a state championship in order to satisfy his wife and redeem himself in the eyes of his father-in-law, who’s a respected head coach.  That’s when the boyfriend, Travis’s decomposing body is found just a few days after he was punched in the face and knocked out by young Billy.  Law enforcement is called in . . . and their main suspect is Billy Lowe.

Told in the first person point-of-view by Billy in places, and by various others in the third, this novel will leave you thinking, long after the last page is finished, when you’ll be looking forward to its sequel!!


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