Brooklyn-based brother and sister duo co-author new novel set in South Dakota
In “Black Hills” (on sale: Oct.11; Thomas & Mercer), authors Franklin Schneider and Jennifer Schneider dig deep into the unsettling secrets of a South Dakota boomtown where, amidst a scourge of fracking, drugs and prostitution, a young woman has been brutally assaulted and left for dead. Brought in to investigate is Alice Riley, a disgraced New York City journalist turned private eye who has a complicated history of her own.
Alice is a tough and bristly big city detective who has been hired to clear the name of Robert Wilcox, a land surveyor (and the husband of her former boss) who has been accused of attacking the young woman in question. When she arrives in the unfamiliar setting of Whitehurst, South Dakota, however, Alice quickly realizes that she is in for more than just small-town culture shock.
Whitehurst, it turns out, presents an anti-Rockwellian picture of provincial America; this is a place where the oil-choked land trembles from pressure earthquakes, where the few women in town are either retail or sex workers, and where almost everyone is hooked on the stimulating effects of a powerful drug known as “devil dust.” Despite her street smarts and powers of perception, Alice is, in fact, completely out of her depth in the eerie western badlands. Convinced that Wilcox has been framed, Alice befriends his mistress, a well-connected prostitute named Kim, and begins to infiltrate the town’s highest crime rings. She soon discovers that the corruption in Whitehurst runs deeper than the oil buried beneath the town, and the assault she is investigating is just one piece of a much broader conspiracy.
With her hardened cynicism and a .357 magnum strapped to her hip, Alice Riley is a strong, undeniably modern detective heroine. She is smart and self-sufficient, and her moral and ethical ambiguity make her a complicated, compelling protagonist. While her position in Whitehurst as a female whistle-blower makes her a target for the town’s most predatory men — some of whom possess a great deal of power and influence — she knows how to use her femininity as a weapon. When she finds herself outnumbered by sleazy pimps, ruthless oil barons and despicable law enforcement officers, Alice is never deterred from her mission to uncover the dangerous truth. It is a search that will lead her from dirty motel rooms to brothels and drug dens to the sprawling mansions of Whitehurst’s most powerful land speculators, and Alice will discover that amidst the oil fields and black hills, truth and justice come at a significant price.
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Franklin Schneider studied writing at the University of Iowa and is the author of the acclaimed memoir “Canned: How I Lost Ten Jobs in Ten Years and Learned to Love Unemployment” (Kensington, 2010).
Jennifer Schneider has an MFA from the University of Wyoming. This brother-sister writing team often collaborates, and this is their first published project together.
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