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Review by
Mike Oliveri
by Brian A. Hopkins
Yard Dog Press
176 pp, Trade Paperback
Cover art by Brand Whitlock

I found it hard to believe that this was Hopkins' first Horror novel (1997's COLD AT HEART was a novella). Not only because of the quality of this book, but also because the guy is just so damned busy! As the brains (and most of the brawn) behind Lone Wolf Publications, he writes, edits, and formats the various CD-ROM publications the company puts out. The guy writes short stories, and in fact won himself a Stoker Award in 2000. But in spite of all that, he had yet to put out a novel.

Yard Dog Press finally rectified that when they released Hopkins' THE LICKING VALLEY COON HUNTERS CLUB in trade paperback format.

The Licking Valley Coon Hunters Club
The main character is private eye Martin Zolotow, actually a product of collaborations between Hopkins and David Niall Wilson (THIS IS MY BLOOD). Almost appropriately, the first novel for Hopkins also became the first novel to feature this rugged, unique character.

Zolotow is an ex-cop, and comments to his past hint at his frequent involvement in supernatural phenomena and a tendency to have partners and friends die around him. He has a very acerbic attitude and a cynical viewpoint, yet he has a strong sense of right and wrong. Setting him apart from the typical toughguy is his one major Achilles heel: he has a very poor memory. This sets him up for some interesting situations as he wakes up (typically after a sever ass-whoopin') and struggles to recall events leading to that present.

As the story begins, Zolotow ("Zolo" to his friends) is putting a young girl on an airplane. Once a hooker, Zolo has taken her off the streets and is reuniting her with his family. Unfortunately he is being watched, and as he leaves a gaunt, rather creepy fellow intercepts him, threatening him with a syringe presumably loaded with the same killer virus that is slowly claiming the life of the gaunt man.

Thus begins Zolo's trip to rural Oklahoma, where he is coerced into rescuing the daughter of a crime boss from the Licking Valley Coon Hunters Club. Their leverage? They have somebody keeping an eye on the young woman he just sent home. One phone call and she's dead.

Reluctantly he goes along. Throughout this ordeal we are treated to Zolo's sharp observations and sharper wit as he deals with the various figures (mostly Oklahoma good ol' boys) that have abducted him.

Unsure of what he's really up against, Zolo tries to play it safe but ultimately will have to fight not only for his own life, but the lives of the other prisoners of the club. For if not, the Hunt will begin, and nobody comes back from it alive . . .

There are a few shortcomings to the plot, such as questionable timing of certain events, but overall the book is a kick-ass romp featuring a cool character and a group of baddies just asking to get the crap beaten out of them. The action progresses quickly, easily holding the reader's attention. Zolo's point of view is entertaining in itself, and Hopkins does a masterful job of sticking to it; there are almost none of the abrupt shifts in POV that plague many experienced novelists, much less first timers.

Also interesting are the sporadic interludes Hopkins uses to further develop Zolo's character. They are short enough to prevent them from breaking up the action, yet there are enough of them to give the reader some good insight into what makes Zolo tick. In these interludes he is speaking with a police psychologist trying to get to the bottom of his actions. He is almost playing with her, and there is not a little bit of conceit and arrogance in his judgements of her.

Overall, while there could be a little streamlining to it, THE LICKING VALLEY COON HUNTERS CLUB is a lot of fun. I give it three BookWyrms.


This review copyright 2000 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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