W. S. Gager’s A Case of Hometown Blues follows Mitch Malone, award winning journalist, as he returns to the chaos and evil of the Michigan town where he grew up. Malone is a success out in the larger world, but when he comes home, he – like the rest of us – reverts back to the social status he had when he was in high school. And like for most of us, that’s not good.
While he’s dealing with this reversion, he also has to deal with the murder of his old friends and neighbors, and worst of all, the police are looking at him as a suspect. When he’s not being followed by the police, he’s being targeted by the killer.
A Case of the Hometown Blues is a great read. It moves quickly with great characters who are sympathetic and familiar. Never having lived in a small town, I found myself quickly engrossed in the politics of everyday life, but that’s not what really drew me in.
I don’t want to give away too much about the novel, but the action at times centers around the activities of a sociopath. That’s not surprising given that it’s a mystery novel dealing with murder. Sociopaths are the stock and trade of murder novels, and we the audience seem to have an endless fascination with them. Think of Silence of the Lambs. Think of The Maltese Falcon.
One glaring omission of the literature of sociopathy, however – and here is where I’m coming dangerously close to giving away too much – is the destruction that they bring to the people close to them.
It is dangerous and unsettling to meet someone who does not have the capacity for love and empathy when that person is a stranger, but of course, the people who are most commonly preyed upon are those people closest to the sociopath. Gager examines this dynamic closely, looking at the way a person can harm those he should love.
In the end, we’re given a vision of the destruction that a single person can bring to everyone he touches if he’s malevolent enough. It’s a fascinating look into the petty evil that small town tyrants can bring, and it would make an interesting companion piece to Martha Stout’s groundbreaking study The Sociopath Next Door.
I recommend A Case of the Hometown Blues for its realism and the fun you’ll have by following Malone. He’s no sociopath after all. He is us, who we would want to be if we too were confronted by evil.