In this classic country noir, featuring a new introduction by Daniel Woodrell, a small town farmer takes a job at a roadhouse, where unbridled greed leads to a brutal murder
Jack McDonald is barely a farmer. Boll weevils have devoured his cotton crop, his chickens have stopped laying eggs, and everything he owns is mortgaged—even his cow. He has no money, no prospects, and nothing to do but hang around filling stations, wondering where his next drink will come from. As far as hooch goes, there’s no place like Smut Milligan’s, where Breath of Spring moonshine sells for a dollar a pint. A bootlegger with an entrepreneurial spirit, Milligan has plans to open a roadhouse, and he asks Jack to run the till. The music will be hot, the liquor cheap, and the clientele rough. But the only thing stronger than Milligan’s hooch is his greed, and Jack is slowly drawn into the middle of Smut’s dalliances with a married woman, the machinations of corrupt town officials—and a savage act of murder.
This newly reissued 1940 crime novel inevitably evokes James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice with its story of murder and adultery against the backdrop of a country roadhouse, but Ross's writing has an affectless, hard-boiled poetry all its own. In rural Corinth, N.C., farmer Jack McDonald has just had his land seized for back taxes when filling station owner Richard "Smut" Milligan offers him work in the soon-to-open River Bend Roadhouse. It will "take on all comers," from hardworking mill hands to corrupt politicos, and from his job's vantage point, Jack sees all of Corinth society coming to enjoy the dance floor, slot machines, and bootleg liquor. He also witnesses the slow-motion tragedy of Smut's increasing entanglement with the seductive Lola Fisher, wife of the richest man in town, and is himself drawn into the bloody results of his boss's greed. That Ross never published another novel may seem like a tragedy itself to any noir fan who reads this book, which emphasizes less the mechanics of plotting than the rich, profane flavor of its characters' voices. Daniel Woodrell provides an introduction.