The Rock Hole

Written by Reavis Z. Wortham
Review by Cecelia Holland

In 1964, ten-year-old Top arrives in a small Texas town to live with his grandfather, the county constable. Tagging after his grandfather, Top spends his first hours in Center Springs examining a dog who has been tortured. Before long, a killer is stalking Top, and his grandfather is struggling to find the murderer and to understand the changes in the world around him.

The mystery, developing in a long string of horrific brutalities, threads through the novel, connecting a prodigious amount of country storytelling on the way. In spite of its rough surfaces, this is an absorbing book, laying out a world just barely over the horizon from 2011, when there was a black side of town and a white side and Indians were lucky to live anywhere at all, when a man could ponder “whether the world would go to hell before all the cotton was in.” This is a white man’s world, but the cracks are showing.

Throughout, scenes of hunting, farming, and family life sizzle with detail and immediacy. The dialog is spicy with country humor and color, and Wortham knows how to keep his story moving. The Rock Hole is an unnerving but fascinating read, and the recent history it brings us is a caution to our own times both about the distance we’ve come in some areas and the perils of complacency.