Genre: Fiction; Author: Tom Franklin; Publisher: William Morrow

It’s a measure of Franklin’s skill that he makes his protagonist — a one-eyed, child-kidnapping, murdering ”immense dwarf shape” — not just believable but kinda lovable in his scabrous way. Smonk has a worthy nemesis in Will McKissick, a bailiff determined to hunt him down for stealing his son. Writing in a profane, no-quotation-marks dialogue mode that mixes William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, and Deadwood’s David Milch, Franklin (Poachers) pulls off a unique Western saga about a turn-of-the-century Alabama town that brings Smonk to trial and inadvertently reveals how much more rotten its citizens are.

Originally posted August 18 2006 — 12:00 AM EDT

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