Charlie Wesley is a drifter with a violent past, a man who converses more with his brother now that the man is dead than he ever did while he was breathing. He's traveling aimlessly, with a vague notion of heading south to Florida, when against all odds he somehow survives a brutal mugging in Memphis, Tennessee.
Shortly afterward Charlie finds a discarded bible in a laundromat with a strange hole running through the middle of the book. With nothing better to do, he begins reading, leading to a seemingly random encounter with one of the strangest preachers he has ever met, a man with the unlikely name of Reverend Phinneas Childe.
The two strike up an uneasy friendship and travel together to the tiny, bucolic town of Cuba Landing, Mississippi, where Childe has been hired to replace the previous pastor of the Cuba Landing Freewill Baptist Church, a man who disappeared nearly one year ago under mysterious circumstances.
Charlie begins to believe Reverend Childe has a plan for Cuba Landing that involves much more than spreading God's word, and the more layers he peels back from the surface of life in the tiny town, the uglier things appear. An apocalyptic storm is about to be unleashed on this out-of-the-way village in rural Mississippi; one which Charlie - not to mention Reverend Childe and everyone else in town - will be lucky to survive.
Heath Lowrance is a debut author but he writes like a true craftsman. THE BASTARD HAND is classic noir with a twist. It features dirty, gritty dialogue spoken by dirty, gritty characters and in classic noir fashion you might have trouble determining exactly who the "good guy" is, or if there even is one. Purity of motive is hard to come by in Cuba Landing.
What's the twist? Religion is featured heavily; faith is used like a battering ram by a cynical preacher; a man who is a master manipulator. Over the course of nearly three hundred pages, Lowrance explores themes of good and evil, right and wrong, and whether it is possible for a sliding scale to apply.
There's plenty of action - bullets fly, knives are brandished, sex is had, people are crossed and double-crossed, and the climactic scene is one you will never forget.
I have to be honest - I've struck up a friendship with Heath Lowrance over the last several months, despite the fact we've never met in person. So I was prepared to enjoy THE BASTARD HAND. But I was blown away, both by the quality of the writing - his prose goes down easy like the finest Tennessee whiskey - and the intricate plot and lifelike characters.
This book is the rare novel that will captivate any noir fan while forcing the reader to consider life in ways he or she may never have done before. If you're a noir fan, get used to the name Heath Lowrance. You'll be hearing it for a long time.