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The Moonshine Messiah: A Mountaineer Mystery by Russell W. Johnson


Publisher: Shotgun Honey Books

Date of publication: May 25th, 2023

Genre: Fiction, Mystery

Purchase Links: Kindle | B&N | AbeBooks | Kobo

Goodreads Synopsis:

As if being a woman sheriff in the West Virginia coal fields wasn’t tough enough, Mary Beth Cain’s life is complicated by the fact that the local hillbilly crime syndicate is run by her mother, Mamie. It’s an association that, along with Mary Beth’s head-busting ways, has her staring down a corruption investigation when she gets a surprise visit from Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Connelly.

Twenty years earlier, Patrick was Mary Beth’s high school sweetheart, but they broke up because Mary Beth couldn’t cut the loose ties she maintains with her villainous family. Now Patrick’s worked out a deal to wipe Mary Beth’s slate clean if she’ll just arrest her brother, Sawyer, who is the cult leader of a booming anti-government militia that’s been giving the Feds headaches. It’s an offer Mary Beth refuses until Sawyer’s followers blow up a federal courthouse and G-men start swarming into town, preparing for a siege of the commando’s compound.

Suddenly Mary Beth is tasked with trying to head off a bloody, Waco-style massacre and the question isn’t whether she should arrest her brother, but if she can do it in time.

First Line:

They started coming a week ago, roaring through Jasper Creek like some kind of Satanic cavalry charge, dressed in black leather with metal spikes and emblems of skulls and serpents and eagles and flame.

The Moonshine Messiah by Russell W. Johnson

Sherriff Mary Beth Cain is not having the best week. She is under investigation by the DoJ for corruption after an expose revealed her unorthodox and sometimes illegal policing ways. Her brother, Sawyer, is holed up in an abandoned mine and preaching about waging war on the government. Her mother, who runs the hill billy crime syndicate, is trying to work out a deal with Mary Beth regarding crime in the area. But things came to a head when Mary Beth’s former high school sweetheart, a lawyer for the DoJ, approached her with a deal. Any charges against her will go away if she can arrest her brother. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, Mary Beth agrees. But, as Mary Beth starts investigating the case, she finds some discrepancies and decides to follow the trail. What she discovers changes everything but doesn’t change the fact that she needs to arrest Sawyer. What did Mary Beth uncover? Will Mary Beth be able to capture her brother?

When I agreed to review The Moonshine Messiah, I thought I would be reviewing a book that followed the generic mystery/crime genre. Let me stop you right here and tell you that this book is anything but typical. This is a twisty-turny mystery with morally gray characters that are multifaceted. To say that I enjoyed reading The Moonshine Messiah is an understatement.

The Moonshine Messiah is a fast-paced book. The pacing of this book was spot on. It would have thrown everything off if this book had slowed the pace. There was a bit of lag when Mary Beth led Sawyer through the tunnels and during the big battle scene, but it wasn’t enough to bother me.

The Moonshine Messiah is set entirely in the state of West Virginia. More importantly, the author set the book in the coal fields of West Virginia. I haven’t visited West Virginia (unless you count stopping at a rest stop while traveling to Massachusetts visiting). So, I was very much interested in how the author described that area. And to be honest, it didn’t sound much different than where I currently live, except for maybe a slightly bigger city.

The main storyline in The Moonshine Messiah centers around Mary Beth. The storyline was well-written and was supported by several secondary storylines. I didn’t feel lost or confused while reading. I knew exactly where I was and what I was dealing with (until the last few chapters when the author turned everything upside down). What I liked the most about this storyline was that the characters were morally gray. That allowed the characters more range than if the author had decided to follow the traditional good guy vs. bad guy storyline.

Mary Beth is the main character in The Moonshine Messiah. I didn’t necessarily like her and didn’t at first. But, as with all the characters in this book, she was layered, and what I saw at the beginning of the book wasn’t exactly who Mary Beth was. She was tough when she needed to be, and she did deserve that DoJ investigation. But she was also brilliant, and she used those smarts to outwit the DoJ and strike a deal with someone she probably shouldn’t have (her mother).

Patrick is the other main character that I am going to highlight here. Like Mary Beth, he was multi-layered, and like Mary Beth, I didn’t like him at first. But, unlike Mary Beth, my dislike and distrust of him stayed. There was something about him that rubbed me wrong, and I was happy that I was proven right about him in the end. But he did help Mary Beth when she needed it the most, which counts for something.

The mystery angle of The Moonshine Messiah was wonderfully written. It was your typical mystery until after Sawyer was arrested. Then, the author does something that I didn’t expect. He turns everything upside down. There were a couple of massive twists that I didn’t see coming. Both involved Mary Beth and members of her immediate family. I finished the book with my mouth hanging open; that’s how off guard I was taken. And bravo to the author for being able to do that.

As I stated above, the end of The Moonshine Messiah is twisty-turny. The author ended all of the storylines in ways that I liked (and took me by surprise). The author also left open enough at the end for there to be a book 2.

I would recommend The Moonshine Messiah to anyone over 21. There is graphic violence, sexual situations, and language.

Many thanks to Russell W. Johnson for allowing me to read and review The Moonshine Messiah. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

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