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When I was studying writing in grad school, my professor would often ask: “If I gave you 10 bucks and sent you into a bookstore to purchase a book, what type of book would you purchase?” I often answered: crime, hard-boiled, or poetry. He would then say, “Well, that’s the genre you need to write.”
I’d like to think A Healthy Fear of Man (US)is an amalgamation of all three. It’s the follow-up to my debut novel, The Science of Paul (US), in which the ex-con and anti-hero, Paul Little, seeks to escape the trappings of Philadelphia where he’s pinned between a volatile gangster facing a failing empire, and the detective who sent Paul to prison for vehicular homicide. Both want something from Paul, actually everyone wants something from Paul. He’s an empty glass, ready to be filled—ready to become whatever someone needs, as long as it gets him one step closer to a peaceful life in North Carolina. In A Healthy Fear of Man, Paul gets his wish. He makes it to N.C.—to the succor of his deceased grandfather’s farm. There, he struggles to make it without money and resources. But it’s the South, where people help their neighbors and where secrets don’t stay hidden. Paul is visited by Bo Fellstone, his grandfather’s old friend, and a precious girl named Gilly. Fellstone wants to help and Gilly wants to be Paul’s pal. But she’s got a secret, the kind that gets her killed. Her body is found floating in Paul’s pond—she’s been beaten and strangled, and DMT is found in her system. And when the sheriff comes knocking on Paul’s door, the only man who can help him clear his name is Fellstone.
The novel tackles some of the issues that still plague the South. The idea of the New South has always been a myth in my book. Times have changed but the South is about 10 years behind, always has been. And it’s the type of place that seems cut off from the rest of the world. Things happen in the South that don’t make the papers. Crimes are committed, innocent people take the fall or they’re railroaded into taking plea deals. The uneducated, the poor, the weak are faceless pawns in a game of politics, racism, and a reconstruction period that has never ended. It’s like a man told me when I moved to N.C.: “You better watch that uppity walk. You asking for trouble and you can die down here.” It’s best to play slow, to play lame, and to blend in. Otherwise you may find trouble, just by sticking out in a crowd. Paul meets this kind of trouble head on and it’s going to take his wits and will to stay out of jail and above ground.
A Healthy Fear of Man is the second installment in the Paul Little crime series.Visit www.Aaronphilipclark.com to learn more.