The narrative blazes through the rural backwoods of Horton burning down churches and meting out vengeance on more than a few good ol’ boys—some who deserve it, some who don’t. And as with DeWildt’s previous work, the writing includes special twists of imagery: “Chief rubbed his thumb and forefinger on the end of his sheathed baton. Turning and pinching it like a whore’s nipple.”
The plot here is streamlined, a single trip down a dark rabbit hole. Protagonist Nick inserts himself in a bar fight between damaged goods Kimmy and her rivals for the affections of town bully Chad Toll. Used to flying low and living off the proceeds of his basement weed farm, Nick is sucked into Toll’s world of brutal crimes and daily retribution, a world where crows are trained to hunt and peck with painful precision and dogs to double-team the enemy and cough up fingers when done.
DeWidlt’s forest is filled with darkness and cruelty, and the consequences are “mutilated genitals, being eaten, beaten, used for profit, exploited under heavy thumbs that Horton seemed to have one too many of.” Because when all’s said and done we still have Chief, cop and ultimate progenitor of so much more than just the town’s inbred violence. Nick’s quest is the oldest kind: “Anything available vs. the evil that threatens everything.”
If there’s a downside to Kill ‘Em With Kindness it’s that DeWildt was going up against his own best writing in Love You to a Pulp (“the real deal: hard and fast but also rich with literary merit… writing that rings true, the best of the best… this writing puts its blade through your heart, pointed and sharp, balanced between fine-grained detail and cosmic philosophy). Less cosmic philosophy and rural mythology this time around, but still some fine writing: “The long, straight gravel drive was dark, shaded with little slashes of sunlight that ripped through narrow breaks and turned the corn stalks into the shadowy fingers that bad-touched everything that dared come close.”
If you like your noir fast, brutal, and twisted jump on this pickup truck barreling down the dirt roads between Horton’s lost corn fields.