By Jason Miller
Kinsey set me up on Twitter a few years ago, and I’ve become quite the addict since. I follow a whole bunch of comedians, who then follow each other, so I’m not even sure how I found all of them. Jason Miller posts frequently and is so funny and smart and thoughtful that I may possibly have a little bit of a crush on him.
Miller has been recently posting about a new book he has published, Red Dog, which I looked up and turns out to be a sequel to an earlier book, Down Don’t Bother Me, which was described as a Justified-like noir mystery set in rural Pennsylvania coal mining country.
I’ve been recently watching and loving Justified, so I promptly bought Down Don’t Bother Me, and not only is it very, very good, but it is coincidentally the perfect counterpart to my earlier review of Savage Season. Like, Down Don’t Bother Me has the rural grittiness that first attracted me to Lansdale’s books, but eliminates all the racism and sexism and then also adds surprising nuance to the characters, as well.
Down Don’t Bother Me has a somewhat slow start where Miller introduces us to the characters and general setting, though the writing is very good. He hits the metaphors a bit hard, but they are always very clever and made me laugh. And once the action picks up, though, the story really gets going!
Down Don’t Bother Me is set in poor, rural mining country, and our main protagonist, Slim, is a miner barely makes ends meet in the dying industry. He is also a single father of a precocious twelve-year-old daughter, which is the first sign that this is a step above most other action-mystery novels. The owner of the mine that he works at offers him a secure pension in return for discretely finding his missing son-in-law, considered a person of interest by the police in the murder of a reporter investigating possible negligence in the mine. If that sounds a bit confusing, it is—Miller does not shy away from a convoluted plot.
I’ve been really struggling to write this review, because what do you say about a book that doesn’t really break any new barriers or anything, but just does its genre really, really well? It was just such a satisfying read – all grit and rural noir with some added poignancy and surprising humor for contrast.
Miller significantly upped his game with this sequel, with a plot that starts with a missing dog, and spirals out into a storm of dog fighting, gun running, and white supremacists. The characters are where Miller really shines. I had some trouble following all the characters, but that is absolutely my fault as a reader and not Miller’s as the author. I read a lot of “tough guy” books and even though I love them, I still get tired of the tough-guy dialogue, and Miller’s dialogue surprises me over and over, and makes me laugh.
So, the dialogue, like I said, is refreshing, the pacing fast, and the violence described in realistic but brief impressions, not in the blow-by-blow detail that slows down the pacing in other action books. Which I especially appreciate, because the violence is not glamorized in these books (which is also a plus to my mind). Red Dog, though, also requires trigger warnings for animal abuse and sexual violence, for which I’ll put more specifics after the spoiler cut.
The animal violence comes from the dog fighting, of course, and even our hero has to reluctantly beat a dog that has been trained to attack him. The most shocking scene, though, is that our tough male protagonist gets raped—it is quick and it is stopped before fully completed—but it is still shocking. Male rape is so rare in these kinds of books that I was actually impressed Miller included it, but it didn’t make it easier to read.