Gods of Howl Mountain

Written by Taylor Brown
Review by Elicia Parkinson

The Korean War was unforgiving, particularly for the United States, whose forces were exceptionally unequipped, unprepared, and inadequately trained. Rory Docherty returns to the mountains of North Carolina from the brutal reality of the Korean battlefield with a wooden leg and a string of traumatic memories. The memories Rory carries from his career as a Marine at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir continue to haunt him as he tries to find some sense of normalcy again.

The dark corners of Rory’s life, pre- and post-war, are relayed in vivid and gritty detail. The landscape of Howl Mountain is also relentless; Rory fights his inner demons while running bootleg whiskey throughout the wooded mountain, watching his back for revenuers who are in the business of trying to shut him down and others who want to take over the bootleg industry.

Rory’s mother, Bonni, has spent the last several years in a mental hospital, refusing to speak, following an event that left her husband dead and someone’s eyeball in a jar. Granny May, Rory’s grandmother, former prostitute and now local herbalist/folk-witch, watches over Rory, protecting him in any way that she can which can seem questionable yet effective.

The Docherty family’s story slowly unfolds over the nearly 300 pages in a lyrical and quiet manner that makes you want to learn more. Brown does not release all the secrets of Howl Mountain at once; rather he takes his time, casting a spell upon his readers. Whiskey-running through the mountains in the 1950s might not, in itself, appeal to all readers, but Taylor Brown’s ability to weave a story of a dark family history and retribution with the relentless mountainous backdrop make this a compelling read. Highly recommended, especially for readers with an appreciation for Ron Rash or Daniel Woodrell.