When I think of a story like the one Phillip Thompson writes about in his phenomenal southern noir novel Deep Blood, I think of Warren Zevon, specifically, a song called “The Indifference of Heaven.” One of the best-written songs in Zevon’s catalogue, “The Indifference of Heaven” depicts lost love, murder, and desperation across a landscape marked by bleakness and inexhaustible supply of loneliness. Every story in the song comes back to the title. “We contemplate eternity”, Zevon says, “Beneath the vast indifference of heaven.” It’s easy to imagine Deep Blood’s righteous, flawed protagonist muttering Zevon’s refrain under his breath.
Deep Blood isn’t just set in the Deep South—it creates dark corners of ghost town streets, winding country roads, small gas stations, and other elements of the environment as we know it that do not actually exist in the real world. Thompson loves these surroundings enough to craft the world of Sheriff Colt Harper (admittedly, that name drives me nuts) with the kind of care that only comes from someone who is steeped in tradition and affection. But there’s a complex narrative to tell, one which has to include Harper’s slow-motion downfall, his regrettable past, a murder, and an ongoing, destructive relationship with an alcoholic father. Then there are all the other personalities who make up Thompson’s character-driven drama.
Thompson writes short, straightforward sentences with unpretentious imagery. Within that writing style he manages to establish believable, interesting characters. He also moves us along the path of the mystery that seeps into Harper’s bones and memories, which are already infected with dozens of grim episodes from his past.
The murder mystery component to Deep Blood is well done, but it’s not the primary focus of the novel. With this book, Thompson seeks to create a character multifaceted enough that we’ll follow him as he seeks resolution with the things that are destroying him with rising ferocity. Thompson does this, while never letting his knowledge or appreciation of southern noir get in the way of telling the best story possible. Fans of the genre are going to be pleased that someone is capable of drawing from past examples and actual life experiences in the south to create a novel as good as this one is. Deep Blood is both authentic and compulsory.
Deep Blood is now available from Roundfire Books. Click or tap here to buy it on Amazon.