There's an order to crime fiction that readers rely upon. As much as they might want to be misled and surprised, they expect an adherence to the ruts of the genre. Crime, which doesn't always make sense and have an explanation or resolution, must make some sort of sense and have some sort of explanation or resolution. You've never met an angrier person than a crime reader who feels their time has been wasted.
Regiment is very much on the mind of Mick at the outset of his third outing, Code of the Hills. Newly retired from the military after 20 years as a CID agent, he returns home to Rocksalt, Kentucky to touch base with his sister, Rocksalt's sheriff, before going abroad.He has a plan for his future, "at least the first six months, buthe was flexible, ready to shift with any circumstance. No plan survived first contact with the enemy, even if the enemy was civilian life." When people start turning up dead--this always seems to happen when Mick comes home--and when his sister gets in over her head, plans change.
Chris Offutt's series has always been about order, in particular the titular code of the East Kentucky hills. These are deep ancestral traditions firmly and proudly stuck to by the residents, a military-like observation that makes getting to the bottom of any business that isn't deemed yours near impossible. As much as the Mick Hardin books are whodunnits, they're stories about the people and the land. While not directly germane to the mystery, interviews with folks who have taken up residence in a chicken coop or call the police to report the ghost of a man looking for his lost gun are key to the story. If you've got time to let some talk, you never know what they'll say.
The flora and fauna of Kentucky is as important as any other element in these books, as important as any social or familial or legal code. It's the foundation of life there, knowable and prescient if one knows what to look for. Forrays into the natural world might make the book seem baggy or digressive--no-nos, in the estimation of some crime readers--are essential ways to know and understand people firmly rooted in the land.
It's Offutt's observing of these systems of order, sometimes out of seeming disinterest in the orders of genre, that make each new Mick Hardin book a must-read. These are lean books, fit to be devoured in a few sittings, but Offutt packs so much into such a tight space that I can't imagine a reader out there who would ever complain that the cardinal crime sin of their time being wasted has been committed here.