THE DEVIL’S COUNTRY (Thomas & Mercer) is a heart-stopping new thriller from award-winning author Harry Hunsicker, former executive vice president of the Mystery Writers of America. In the vein of True Detective, THE DEVIL’S COUNTRY features a troubling small-town murder and asks the haunting question: Does the devil live in your own backyard?
After losing his wife and child to a violent crime, ranger Arlo Baines wants nothing more than to disappear in the dusty badlands of West Texas. But when a young mother turns up murdered, Arlo becomes the primary suspect in the exact kind of crime he’s desperately trying to forget. Now, it’s up to him to clear his name and find the dead woman’s missing children, all before a corrupt local cult can exert its influence over the town and its residents.
Harry Hunsicker is a fourth-generation native of Texas and author of seven novels. His work has been shortlisted for both the Shamus and Thriller Awards.
Steve Weddle: Your publisher refers to THE DEVIL’S COUNTRY as a “21st-century western.” Other than being set in the southwest, what does that mean?
Harry Hunsicker: True story: I didn't realize until the publisher start working on ad copy that I had written a western. The story is set in the current day, so how can that be, right? Looking at the book after some time has passed, I realize now that the main character is cut from the same cloth as the rugged loners in all those Clint Eastwood movies. So in that sense the book is a western.
SW: Arlo Baines finds himself working with a newspaper reporter. What makes Hannah Byrne a good companion in this mystery?
HH: Hannah Byrne is a reporter for the New York Times who arrives in this small town in West Texas much like Arlo Baines does, with no connection to the area or clue about how things operate in that part of the world. In some sense, she's a wanderer much like Arlo is. But because she's reporter she's very inquisitive by nature, which proves to be a big asset for Arlo.
SW: What’s the town of Piedra Springs like, and why is it a good setting for this story?
HH: Piedra Springs is a fictionalized representation of what is going on in rural areas across Texas and the rest of the US. Short version: small towns everywhere are dying due to a lack of economic opportunity. People are leaving, and those that remain have a certain fatalistic outlook toward life.
SW: How is Arlo Baines different from Jon Cantrell?
HH: Arlo has a lot more baggage than Jon Cantrell. Arlo is a luggage store, he's got so much baggage.
SW: What is it that readers and writers find so interesting about characters with baggage, about damage and redemption?
HH: In regards to baggage, I think readers relate to characters who offer a glimpse into their own lives. I.e. everyone has some baggage.
SW: You're working now with Thomas & Mercer after earlier books with more "traditional" publishing. How has that gone?
HH: Working with Thomas & Mercer has been a wonderful experience. They understand books and more importantly how to sell books.
SW: You're doing video promotion for this book?
HH: I'm very happy and honored that THE DEVIL'S COUNTRY was the only second mystery/thriller selected by Thomas & Mercer to be part of a program called Kindle in Motion, essentially a new format for consuming stories. Imagine a graphic novel where the graphics are moving images. So if the text reads "A guy walks into a bar" there's a short looping video of a man entering a bar. (Kindle in Motion is only available with the e-book version. No extra charge.) These videos and some stills are scattered throughout the book and are designed to make the reading experience more immersive. For THE DEVIL'S COUNTRY, the publisher created a short script based on my story, hired actors and a production team, and filmed in Nevada for a week last November. I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a couple days on set which was an incredible experience.
SW: And you're working with Alison (Janssen) Dasho? Does it get any better?
HH: Alison is a great editor. I loved working with her on the Cantrell series. She has transferred internally to Montlake so for THE DEVIL'S COUNTRY I was fortunate enough to work with another all-star editor, Jacque Ben-Zekry.
THE DEVIL'S COUNTRY published April 11, 2017.