From reading the killer and quite convincing forward by Daniel Woodrell, I knew I had to read Matthew F. Jones’ A Single Shot, and it did not disappoint in the least, easily being the best book I have read so far this year. This country noir tale of guilt, desperation and comeuppance is as dark and brooding as they come, not the least of which can be accredited to Jones’ keen prose style, which treats descriptions of raw, preserved nature and shattering violence with same eloquence and grace. It also juggles two different types of mood very well, going fro starkly realistic to dream like with such fluidity that you can hardly notice it. But, like Woodrell says in his forward, this book can be quite mean and nasty sometimes, libel to bite the hand of anyone ill prepared for the kind of vengeance and pain Jones’ rains down on his characters. When things get ugly, they get real ugly, and Jones doesn’t spare the reader any of the violence and death that befall these unlucky country folk. But that is part of the magic of these kinds of books. You have to think twice as to whether or not you can handle such a harsh journey. The novel opens quite beautifully, with a first chapter that rivals DeLillio’s baseball opening in Underworld. John Moon is a man in dire straits: he is recently separated from his wife whom he still loves dearly, and the farm that has been in his family for generations is about to be sold off, leaving him with very little ways in which to support himself, with farming being the only thing he knows. So we meet him as he is poaching on private property, looking for game to kill in order to feed himself. While tracking a wounded deer, he spots a glint of color out of the corner of his eye, and takes a fateful shot. The object turns out to be a young teenage girl, and the shot is very fatal. He follows her blood tracks and finds not only her dead body, but a bag full of money and evidence of her past life as well. In a move that is both logical and morally bankrupt, he takes the money, hides the body, and does his best to cover up his foul if accidental deed in hopes that it will ensure his family’s security and bring his wife and child back to them. As it goes with situations like this, things go quite awry, and Moon finds his life spiraling out of control in a whirlwind of violence. Despite the gory parts, including one involving a mutilated body in a hotel room, the book has a deep undercurrent of sadness to the proceedings, making John Moon out to a tragic figure whose one mistake costs him a chance at happiness. With a great number of tense scenes fueled by paranoia, a few more dead bodies, and a chilling ending that will take your breath away, A Single Shot is not a novel to miss if you like stories with a bloody edge.