Mysterious Book Report Dry Bones In The ValleyDry Bones in the Valley by Tom Bouman

W.W. Norton & Company, $24.95, 281 pages, ISBN 978-0-393-24302-4

Are there any among us—living in Twenty-First Century America—who hasn’t heard of hydraulic fracking? It’s commonly referred to as Fracking and everyone has an opinion about it, good or bad, pro or con, informed or ignorant. It’s one of several hot-button words that polite folks don’t utter in social groups lest an argument begin, leaving bruised egos and hurt feelings in its wake. You know what I’m talking about, don’t ya . . .

Having grown up in the southern Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, which is decisively opposed to the process, I’m quite aware of the fracking issue. Forty miles south of my old home town however, lies the state of Pennsylvania, where fracking has been embraced from the start and landowners are getting rich selling drilling leases. And it’s those same leases and the fracking question which lights the backstory of a dandy murder mystery by a first-time author that’s a perfect short, fun summer read.

Dry Bones in the Valley, by Tom Bouman, takes place in northeastern Pennsylvania. It’s farming country, isolated, bucolic and indistinguishable from the place where I was born and raised. The novel begins with the discovery of an unidentified body on a remote hilltop that belongs to an elderly man living alone in his old family homestead, and suffering from advanced dementia. The town is named Wild Thyme, and Henry Farrell is it’s lone law enforcement officer. He thought it would be a sleepy little place where he could just vegetate, trying to get over the untimely death of his young wife. But Wild Thyme is a place where the families, and the secrets and the feuds have gone on for generations.

Now, those emotions are being rubbed raw. They’re frayed to the breaking point because the frackers have come into the impoverished community with wads of cash to spend on drilling leases. Some locals welcome them with open arms. Others just want them gone, the town left unchanged. Then, there are the drug dealers. Following the money, they’re bringing meth and heroin into the area, straining Farrell’s limited resources to the breaking point. When his only deputy is gunned down and a long-forgotten grave is discovered containing the remains of a woman who’s known only by a man who cannot speak . . . Farrell is overwhelmed. Dry Bones in the Valley is a timely, fast-paced and well written murder mystery that will leave you itching to know what happens next, because Henry Farrell is one of the most interesting, honest and endearing protagonists to come up in a long, long time.


John Dwaine McKenna