The Rock Hole

coverIn 1964, farmer and part-time Constable Ned Parker combine forces with John Washington, the almost mythical black deputy sheriff from nearby Paris, to track down a disturbed individual who is rapidly becoming a threat to the entire small Texas community of Center Springs.

When Ned is summoned to a hot cornfield one morning to examine the remains of a tortured bird dog, he finds a dark presence in their quiet community. A farmer by trade, Ned is usually confident when it comes to handling moonshiners, drunks and domestic disputes. But the animal atrocities turn to murder, and the investigation spins beyond his abilities.

After a dizzying series of twists, eccentric characters and dead-ends, the body count rises as Ned's friend, cranky Judge O.C. Rains, is forced to contact the FBI. Worse, sinister warnings that his family has been targeted by the killer lead Ned to the startling discovery that he knows the murderer very well.

With a heart-pounding pace, country humor and a stunning climax, The Rock Hole speaks to the darkness in us all. In bald-headed pot-bellied Ned Parker, Wortham has created an authentic American hero who will put you in mind of the best heroes and antiheroes you've ever experienced.

The year 1964 was the end of an era in Center Springs, and the climax may well shock your civilized sensibilities.

What people are saying...

The Rock Hole was chosen by Kirkus as one of the 12 best novels of 2011! "An accomplished first novel about life and murder in a small Texas town. Back in the summer of 1964, life is simpler, though probably no less fraught with evil. In Lamar County, Texas, Ned Parker's the law. He's a bit long in the tooth but still has that don't-tread-on-me look that county reprobates have learned to take seriously. And then there's Top, the constable's adoring and well-loved 10-year-old grandson. Through them, in alternating chapters, Wortham tells a story of grace under pressure, of what happens when a deranged and vicious predator decides that they're his promised prey. Local news sources tab him 'The Skinner,' and the label is chillingly apt. He starts with small animals, then proceeds to small human beings—mutilated, murdered, their corpses gruesomely displayed as trophies, an idiosyncratic array doubly intimidating in its lack of pattern. Lamar County cowers. Constable Ned is convinced that a vendetta is involved, and though the why of it remains murky, he can no longer doubt its intent. Something noxious is heading for the Parkers. It arrives with breathtaking suddenness, leading to a fast and furious climax, written to the hilt, harrowing in its unpredictability. Not just scary but funny too, as Wortham nails time and place in a sure-handed, captivating way. There's a lot of good stuff in this unpretentious gem. Don't miss it."
Kirkus Reviews

The Rock Hole was one of three finalists for the 2012 Benjamin Franklin Award Mystery/Suspense category sponsored by the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA).

"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."
Historical Novels Review

"Don't ask why I haven't finished reading The Rock Hole before now, just know that I read it in about eight hours and loved every minute of it. Right after I started reading, I decided to dog-ear the pages where I laughed out loud or the description was particularly good. My husband came in the room when I was at the end, and asked how 'all those pages' got bent. That's when I looked a realized about 1/3 of the book is now dog-eared.
"The descriptions of places in and around Paris, Hugo, and Chicota were fantastic... your very keen thumbnail descriptions brought a reader into the scene without interrupting the story.
"Your handling of the book's humor was like watching a master sportsman with a fish on the hook. The humor gave this otherwise-seriously-dark novel patches of sunlight in which the characters could be seen. And it was the somber, dark-edged humor of country people accustomed to blood, who've seen death first hand, and accept it as part of life. Some might call it 'earthy humor,' but I think it was a brilliant way to balance the novel's tension."
—Cathy Reed Weber

"Mr. Wortham, I am a public librarian in Westlake, Louisiana. I read a large number of books, many of which are excellent, but I felt the need to tell you that I enjoyed your book more than any that I have read since To Kill A Mockingbird. I did not need help with any of the terms or sayings as they took me right back to my childhood and even to the present. Your characters, plot, and description all added up to a wonderful reading experience.I recommended The Rock Hole to a patron a few minutes ago, and will continue to do so. It was so nice to sit a spell and to be spellbound. You are the first author I have felt compelled to compliment or to correspond with. Thank you for your book."
—Kay Dering

"What a gem of a book! Poisoned Pen Press has discovered a new author whose writing is a delight. Set in 1964 on the banks of the Red River on the Texas-Oklahoma border, this historical mystery keeps you turning the pages. The author, Reavis Wortham, takes the reader back to a time that was not that long ago but in many ways was. American society has completely changed in the past fifty years. It is a reminder to us all that fifty years ago a person of color could not enter any business that they wanted to in the American south. There were unsaid divisions that existed in businesses, in churches, and well pretty much everywhere you can imagine. It is against this back drop that this fully captivating novel takes place.
"Our main character, Constable Ned Parker knows what is happening: 'Staring glumly at his coffee, sadness and the futility of a lawman in a changing society swamped the man who only wanted to do the right thing.' And Ned does want to always do the right thing and that is what makes him a great hero. And his grandson Top is so lucky to have him, his grandmother Miss Becky and their extended family. An extended family that is being hunted and haunted by a dark sinister force that is always nearby but invisible to them. I wanted to finish the book to find out what the conclusions would be but at the same time I didn't want the book to end!
"I highly recommend this refreshing novel that debuts in June. Pre-order a copy... it's worth it!"
Mysteries Etc.

"This deftly plotted, fast moving novel is Reavis Wortham's second. His first (a comedy) was published in 1999. I hope he doesn't wait a dozen years to write another thriller. I don't want to wait that long to read it, and read it I will.
"In many respects, The Rock Hole reminded me of another well-conceived thriller: The Bottoms. Like Joe Lansdale's novel, The Rock Hole takes place in Texas, sets up a story involving mutilated bodies, places a child at the story's center, and features a white protagonist who doesn't share the racist tendencies of his neighbors. Ned, a white man married to a Native American, depends on nonwhite labor to pick his cotton but treats every law-abiding member of the community with respect regardless of race. The town is literally divided by railroad tracks, whites living on one side and blacks on the other. Ned's black deputy enforces his own version of the law in the black community as an alternative to the vicious 'justice' dispensed by the racist Sheriff, a man Ned despises. The differing attitudes of the characters on questions of race add realism to the story without becoming sanctimonious (even Ned, who pays low wages to the laborers who pick his cotton while worrying that civil rights protests will spread to their community, has a ways to go). I loved the way it ended. I would give The Rock Hole 4 1/2 stars if I could."
—TChris, through Amazon.com

"This book had some really good moments and also was a great nostalgic trip. I liked all the characters, but especially liked Top's voice. I thought the mystery was well done, too, with just enough red herrings. Glad for a small press like the Poisoned Pen to publish works like these—I'm SO bored with the top ten list big names that just crank out the same books with different titles. Rock Hole has some magic to it. I think it would make a great audio book, too."
—Sydney, through Goodreads

"The comparisons to Joe Lansdale's work is inevitable as it is appropriate. Mr. Wortham has a GREAT ear for dialogue. The book itself is a satisfying read but, being a native Texan, I can't help but play close attention to the all-too-true ring of the dialogue and conversation that Wortham writes. I recommend this book strongly!"
—Capnwil, through Amazon.com

"This is the best mystery I've read in years. Given my rural tastes it won't be for everybody but if you liked Winter's Bone, I think you'll like this. Poisoned Pen Press should be congratulated for publishing it. Reavis Wortham has done for rural Texas in the '60s what Daniel Woodrell has done for the Ozarks, blemishes and ignorance, honor and loyalty."
—Ron Baird, through Goodreads

"After meeting you on Saturday at Firewheel Barnes and Noble, I started reading on Saturday evening and finished on Sunday morning. At first, I was thrown off a little by the changes in narrator, but once I got used to it, the changes in narrator were interesting. I really enjoyed the book. After all, it was about Texas in 1964 ( when I graduated from Garland High), hunting and dogs (I raised a couple of litters of Brittanies).
"But the part that really got me was the Texas sayings and dialect that you included. Both sets of my grandparents always made us pay a penny when they gave any of us a knife so it wouldn't cut a relationship. I have never seen or heard of this anywhere else until your book. I wish I had kept a list of all their sayings and habits over the years. I will be recommending your book to all my clients and friends, especially the ones on our deer lease. Keep up the good Texas stories and let me know when it is time for your next book. The series should be a worthy Texas successor to the C.J. Box type series."
—Ray Rushing, Garland, Texas

"It's your fault, Mr. Wortham.
"Yesterday, when I should have been dusting, floor mopping, tub scrubbing, tomato harvesting, flower gardening and/or lane jockeying at Wal-Mart, I instead settled into a comfy chair, poured a tall glass of iced tea and relished all 284 pages of The Rock Hole.
"As a native Texan who has been trapped in the Midlands of South Carolina for almost 18 years, I was thrilled beyond measure to open The Rock Hole and find myself transported back in time to the days of my youth in the Lone Star State. The sounds and voices I heard; the foods I tasted; the land I traipsed; the social, economic and political landscape that existed in the '60s—everything was neatly encased within the book's covers.
"Today, I've been thinking about Ned Parker, John Washington, Judge O.C. Rains, Miss Becky, Cody and the Scout/Jem-like duo of Pepper and Top. Prior to yesterday, I had never met these folks; now they seem like old friends.
"My library job affords me endless opportunities to offer readers' advisory services. Rest assured that I have already mentioned The Rock Hole not only to co-workers, but also to many of our branch's avid readers. Next Monday evening, our Mystery Book Club convenes, and I'll introduce your book during the roundtable discussion.
"Thanks for providing such an entertaining, back-to-one's-roots read! I look forward to the publication of additional Center Springs-based mysteries!
"Enjoy your retirement!"
—Anna Eaheart Williams, Batesburg-Leesville, SC

"Having just this moment finished reading The Rock Hole, I had to write to tell you that it is one of the finest novels of its kind I've ever read. Every word, every expression—even every thought!—your characters display... rings true. Your ear for the language and culture of that place and that time... is superb. With a slam-bang ending to a brilliantly crafted tale... you've delivered a masterpiece. Well done, sir: Well done!"
—K. Will

"Mr. Wortham, I LOVED your book. Two thumbs up. I enjoy crime/mystery/thrillers and I particularly like that your book held me on the edge of my seat and also made me laugh out loud. Top brought to mind the little boy in John Grisham's book The Painted House. Pepper kinda reminded me of me when I was little. I hope you have more tales coming. Thank you for sharing your talent."
—Diana

"Mr. Wortham... I just finished reading your The Rock Hole. I really enjoyed the book. Thanks for bringing some believable characters around for us to enjoy. From your subtitle 'A Red River Mystery,' I infer that you might even bring these characters back. Please do!
"I'm sure that there are many other readers who appreciate the blend of the outdoors and the people who live with it. It is great to have a well crafted mystery that does not involve urban settings and Scandinavian sociopaths. Even those of us from the Northeast Rust Belt enjoy mysteries that don't involve big cities. Please continue this series if at all possible.
"Thanks for sharing your talent with those of us who can only read, but not write."
—Tom Zordan

"Top's tale is a real page turner. This who-done-it, set in small town Texas, kept me in suspense from the beginning to the end. Even though I lived there for 25 years, you don't have to be from Texas to appreciate this novel. Mr. Wortham spins his tightly written, eerie plot around a cast of characters who are full of life in their mannerisms, voices and personalities. And then he made me laugh till I cried during the funeral! I savored every page and can't wait for the sequel."
—Ginger H.

"A sensitive, suspenseful debut crime novel. Full of twists, wry and earthy humor, it epitomizes the grit, the patience and the perseverance, of middle America. Folks who grew up in Texas, where the novel is set, or anywhere in the belt that runs from the northwest angle of Minnesota to the Padre Islands and from the middle of Pennsylvania to Cody, Wyoming, will recognize themselves in this novel. Their humor, their practicality, their keen natural observations, are all here to savor.
"Laced with forthright humor, the novel proceeds at a racing pace through event after event as suspicion grows and plot twist after twist keeps readers off-balance until the stunning climax is reached. Ned Parker is a real character who carries the story in an authentic and realistic manner.
"This is an eminently satisfying novel. I look forward to the next."
—Marilyn Meredith, a.k.a. F.M. Meredith

"I went into this audiobook completely cold. By that I mean that I had never heard of Reavis Z. Wortham or the narrator Traber Burns and I had not read any reviews. I just happened to stumble upon this audiobook while browsing through the new releases on Netlibrary. What really struck me was the cover image. I'm not sure what it was about the cover that hooked me but it certainly did.
"Immediately after pushing play on this audiobook I was transported back in time. Either I'm old enough or lived in such a rural community that it felt a lot like going back home.
"It is 1964 in the community of Center Springs, Texas where this story unfolds. Center Springs is a rough and tumble melting pot of racial tensions. These tensions are ever present and make Ned Parker's life as a law man and a farmer extremely difficult at times.
"Ned Parker is an old fashioned 'Good Ol' Boy.' He is down to earth, honest to a fault and universally respected by the community. His dogged perseverance has served him well throughout his career however he feels completely out of his element when a series of animal mutilations plague the area. As Ned fears, the animal killings are only a prelude to the killer's ultimate goal.
"Audio Production: Traber Burns was a brilliant choice to narrate this book. His narration was spot on and never wavered. I'm eagerly looking forward to the next Red River Mystery... as long as Traber Burns continues to narrate!
"Overall: I was very pleasantly surprised by The Rock Hole. Its absorbing atmosphere and well developed characters had me looking at my ipod with mixed emotions as the time remaining steadily dwindled down. On one hand, I couldn't wait to hear what was about to happen while on the other hand I knew that I was really going to miss Ned, Top, Pepper and Cody.
"The Rock Hole is a rustic masterpiece."
—John T.

"Wortham packs a wallop of a tale that will keep you on the edge of your saddle until the very end. With exquisite dialogue and eloquent detail, the author transports you back in time to a place in Texas you would never imagine—and will never forget. You won't regret adding The Rock Hole to your list of must-reads."
—Boris Sharkey, Murphy, NC