The Third Hill North of Town

Written by Noah Bly
Review by B. J. Sedlock

Driven by an intense need to go home to Missouri where she grew up, middle-aged Julianna Dapper slips away from the keepers of a mental hospital in 1962 Maine. She steals Dr. Edgar Reilly’s car, and offers a ride to Elijah Hunter, an African-American teenager whom she mistakes for childhood friend Ben Taylor. They pick up Jon Tate, a hitchhiking youth who’s fleeing pressure to marry a girl he got pregnant. The three are pursued by Reilly, Julianna’s son Gabriel (who believes the boys have kidnapped and raped his mother), Elijah’s parents (who are sure he hasn’t), and, after Julianna rams a state trooper’s car, the law. The hapless trio leaves an unintended train of bodies in their wake. In between, readers are flashed back to a violent attack against Julianna’s family in 1923, which has a bearing on her current mental state. As the pursued and pursuers meet at Julianna’s destination, tragedy comes calling yet again.

This novel contains elements of dark comedy, action-adventure, crime, and tragedy. Its theme could be summed up by this passage from page 19: “Coincidence doesn’t merely love insanity: It worships it.” Readers who accept the high coincidence level in the plot will be rewarded with a fast-paced road-trip story. At first the constant flipping between sets of characters and time periods was a bit annoying, but as I got further into the book, the technique began to entice me to find out what’s going to happen next. Bly rounds out all his characters with interesting backstories, not only the central trio. I wasn’t enthusiastic at the start, but the book grew on me, and I came to care about the characters. Recommended to readers whose expectations aren’t locked into one genre.