Hell at the Breech

Written by Tom Franklin
Review by Lisa Ann Verge

Hell at the Breech depicts rural gang warfare in 1890s Alabama. A posse of country sharecroppers is bent on vengeance after one of their own is murdered (they suspect) by one of the “town folk.” After a year of robbery, murder, and mayhem, those same town folk form a posse and wreak their own vengeance on the countryside. The novel is based on real events.

Hell at the Breech is a hard book to read. Franklin is a Southerner himself, so this reviewer defers to his description of the sharecroppers as chaw-chewing, corn-whiskey-drinking, bigoted men lacking sufficient gray matter to house any sense of morality. The town folk aren’t depicted any more kindly. The few characters twinged with conscience –Sheriff Billy Waite, the only law in the county, and Mack Burke, a 16-year-old who commits the crime that starts all the trouble – are paralyzed with indecision and let events bowl them over. True, deep, comprehensible motivations are lacking, leaving little “good” to balance the “evil.” And there is plenty of evil, for this is a raw story full of bloodlust, mindless mob mentality, and the cruelty of the uncivilized.

All this said, Hell at the Breech is a gripping, well-written tale with a cunning end-of-story twist. Franklin has given us a long, hard look at the darker side of human nature.