Kings of the Earth
For his acclaimed debut, Finn, Jon Clinch borrowed from Mark Twain, telling the story of Huckleberry Finn's malicious father. In his masterful and compassionate new novel, Kings of the Earth, Clinch borrows again, this time from a true-life case of possible fratricide in 1990. Three elderly, semiliterate brothers live in squalor on a ramshackle dairy farm in central New York state. They barely wash, their coveralls are splattered in cow manure, and their tiny house is a fetid mess. Strangest of all, they share a bed—and on a summer night one dies from what the local medical examiner calls strangulation. The prismatic narrative shifts time and point of view, and Clinch easily slips into the voices of his diverse cast of characters—a nosy, good-hearted neighbor, a police investigator struggling to do the right thing, and the brothers' drug-dealing nephew. Through evocative descriptions of the rural landscape—"a countryside full of that same old homegrown desolation"—and by imbuing these odd men with a gentle nobility and an "antique strangeness," Clinch has created a haunting, suspenseful story.