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Hell at the Breech

4.03  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,647 Ratings  ·  200 Reviews

In 1897, an aspiring politician is mysteriously murdered in the rural area of Alabama known as Mitcham Beat. His outraged friends -- mostly poor cotton farmers -- form a secret society, Hell-at-the-Breech, to punish the townspeople they believe responsible. The hooded members wage a bloody year-long campaign of terror that culminates in a massacre where the innocent suffer

Paperback, 368 pages
Published February 16th 2004 by Flamingo (first published 2003)
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Community Reviews

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Western noir…despair-filled, hickory-smoked literature echoing the matter-of-fact cynicism of Cormac McCarthy, and the conspicuous immorality of Jim Thompson.

That’s the best way I can think of to describe Tom Franklin’s impressive first novel. A surprisingly strong, surprisingly powerful maiden effort that clearly heralds the blooming genius of the talent that would go on to pen Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, one of my favorite novels of 2011. The man can seriously tell stories.

But damn if th
Jeffrey Keeten
Jun 02, 2015 Jeffrey Keeten rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jeffrey by: On The Southern Literary Trail
Shelves: hardboiled, southern
”Tell you something, Bedsole.” he said. “Good sheriff has to know things, be they secret or not. Was a time back yonder in my ambitious years, when you was still chasing girls in pigtails, where I knew just about everything went on in my county, no matter how delicate, from the bowel movement of men to the ministerial cycles of women. A fly couldn’t light on a stack of horse shit I didn’t know about it. But then it happened I got older, as men will, and had to let some slack in my grip. You know ...more
Dec 09, 2012 Eh?Eh! rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I was a young 'un, when everything was new and there was no bitter experience to cast a cynical shade over whatever was before me, I would read everything. If it had letters, I would read it. There's this exercise the teacher pulled out sometime in early elementary school and then later in late high school, a paragraph where you were supposed to count all the letter e's. In high school, I'd forgotten the trick of it and missed all the ones in the small words, the ones I'd skim over in my by ...more
Larry Bassett
Tom Franklin’s first novel was published in 2003 and is a hell of a story. I am reading this story over a decade later and have been prepped to accept that it includes a good deal of violence. I have spent much of my life avoiding violence in books and movies but have tried to reverse course somewhat in the past couple of years. Somehow in my life I got to be a pacifist and generally squeamish about blood and killing.

My first son was born in the era when father’s sat in the waiting room. By the
Apr 04, 2016 LeAnne rated it really liked it
Bloody hell!
Violent, violent, achingly poignant. I loved this outstanding work by Franklin but will not reread because of the - did I mention? - intense violence.

I will say that this was especially good with the Audible narration - Pine's deep, gravelly voice was perfect. If you have a long road trip, turn on your Kindle-Audible app for this. Alabama cowboy-shoot-em-up with glorious depth and uncomfortable authenticity for the late 1800s rural Alabama. Not as good as Crooked Letter Crooked Let
"This here is a commitment you won't be able to get out of once you sign up," Tooch went on. He placed a fatherly hand his shoulder and squeezed it until Mack looked up. "Are you willing to own up to the responsibility we're fixing to yoke upon you?"
"Yes, sir," he said.
"Are you willing to kill, if given the order?"
"Yes, sir."
"Willing to die, if it comes to that?"
"Yes, sir."
"In return, you'll get the protection of this inner circle, and of the larger circle without. Since Arch was murdered, we've
Apr 06, 2014 Jeanette rated it really liked it
This novel, I won't attempt a review of the complex characters or plot. Violence beyond words and a social construct of competing survival from the first days of infancy, mark every page of this book. If there is an English word that connotes the total opposite of the word "nurture" you would have the word to define the nuance of this era. There is a old sheriff who wants to try to rectify some of the worst injustices.

Gangbangers of the late 1890's in poor scrapple cotton farming South, seemingl
Diane Barnes
Mar 11, 2014 Diane Barnes rated it really liked it
This is my 3rd Tom Franklin book, and after finishing each of them my first thought on closing the book is, "Wow, this man can write!". He knows how to build a story, how to create suspense, he gives us characters that are human in ways good and bad, and puts words in their mouths that let you see into their souls. There is a lot of violence and cruelty in this book, but let's face it: 1898 in a community of mostly poor tenant farmers who waged a daily battle just to keep their heads above water ...more
Apr 22, 2016 Laura rated it it was amazing
I am going to have to say Tom Franklin delivered a perfect 5 star rating from me. Perfect pacing of the plot and characters. It was definitely a gritty, page turner from the very beginning. May be my favorite from Franklin.
Ruth Turner
Sep 03, 2014 Ruth Turner rated it really liked it
Shelves: southern-lit

An exceptional read but definitely not a story for the faint of heart. There's a lot of violence and animal cruelty.

Thanks to Jeanette for suggesting it to me. I loved it.

Lee Goldberg
Apr 18, 2010 Lee Goldberg rated it it was amazing
For book lovers, the pleasure and discovery of browsing through a bookstore's shelves can never be replaced or replicated by visiting an online site.

A couple of months ago, I was browsing through an independent bookstore in Mendocino, California and happened upon HELL AT THE BREECH by Tom Franklin, which was published in 2003 and yet was still stocked on the shelves as a new title. Imagine a chain bookstore holding on to a title that long. I doubt I ever would have discovered the book otherwise
Apr 27, 2012 Tim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
I reviewed this for PW and the Chronicle, the latter of which is pasted below (my original text); fantastic book!

Vigilante “Justice” in the post-Civil War South

Hell at the Breech
By Tom Franklin
HarperCollins, 320 pages, $23.95

It’s a cliché of contemporary fiction: literary novels are character-driven; commercial novels are plot-driven. But surely the best, and most lasting, novels integrate both elements. Hell at the Breech, a remarkable first novel by Tom Franklin, represents a nearly perfect sy
Jun 18, 2015 Sarah rated it really liked it
Recommended to Sarah by: On the Southern Literary Trail
"Judge, the reason you hired me is to keep clear of the muck. Mitcham Beat’s got as much muck as any place I ever set foot in."

Mitcham Beat, comprising mostly of poor cotton farmers, is arguably one of the roughest rural hamlets in Alabama even by 1898 standards. A secret group of Whitecaps named “Hell at the Breech” keep their own version of law and justice by burning houses, threatening people, poisoning wells, destroying fences, and lynching.

Inspired by true events, I often wondered what rea
Dec 10, 2010 Snotchocheez rated it it was amazing
From the opening lines of Tom Franklin's debut novel "Hell at the Breech", you know that you're in store for something refreshingly different, and powerful, and and and and (dare I say?) evil and wretched, and know you're holding the end product of some amazing story-telling talent.

His account of the very-real Mitcham Beat "war" (hardly a war, more like an extreme case of territorial pissing, in light of the war-to-end-all-wars twenty years or so preceding it) in antebellum southern Alabama is h
Nov 04, 2011 Anne rated it it was amazing
Man oh man! Can this guy ever write! Not for the squeamish, this is one of the most violent books I have ever read. It is also a stroll through the darkest aspects of human nature, a Lord of the Flies set in the rural south at the turn of the century, as the underpinnings of civil order disintegrate into a mob mentality. The writing is a blend of Faulkner and Charles Frazier ("Cold Mountain"). The theme is, as I said, Lord of the Flies, Cold Mountain, and The Oxbow Incident rolled into one novel ...more
Mar 01, 2010 Adam rated it it was amazing
Hell at Breach more than lives up to its awe inspiring name as a wild and wooly tale. Franklin’s stunning debut combines southern literature, historical novel, and hardboiled crime in this tale of a group of poor sharecroppers forming a gang to fight rich landowners and shop keepers (and for more self serving and nefarious reasons). Assured prose, historical detail and terrific dialogue give authenticity to the tale, but it’s the characters that make it memorable. The Widow, Tooch, the Burkes, S ...more
Mar 12, 2012 Michael rated it really liked it
For me this book falls firmly into the category of: very happy to have read, but quite happy to never read again. This is a visceral, violent book that gives equal weight to both sides of the conflict and where rarely does a body appear on the page without a purpose, but it doesn't make the blood and deaths any easier to take.

Franklin doesn't shrink from presenting the dire living conditions and tenuous lifestyles of those that live on the fringes of society and he takes his time (almost the fir
Apr 15, 2013 William rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book as a follow-up to Franklin's Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter which I enjoyed immensely. But I can honestly say that I liked this one better. For at least three-quarters of the novel, the author seemed to stand back and let the characters move freely through the landscape of violence, poverty, and various forms of guilt. In the last quarter, he does seem to be pushing his character around a bit more in order to wrap it up. The novel is about the precarious balance of teetering bet ...more
Robert Intriago
Apr 22, 2014 Robert Intriago rated it really liked it
This is my third Tom Franklin book and I liked it, but not as much as "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter". Tom Franklin is one of the new Southern writers, along with Cash, Burke, Pollock, Brown, etc, that has made me an avid reader of that genre. Their ability to put into words the eternal clash between good and evil and the thin line that lies between them is uncanny. In this rendition of the old struggle of the land owners and the sharecroppers the author digs deep into the evil that man can inf ...more
Dec 08, 2010 Kathy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another good one from Tom Franklin (I still like Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter better though). Beyond gritty, with some horrifically graphic, though not gratuitous, violence, this book is not for the faint of heart (or the easily nauseated). Mr. Franklin recreates turn of the century Alabama and creates some pretty nasty characters. Since this is historical fiction, they are made all the more horrifying by the thought that they are based on actual people. A well crafted interesting western (des ...more
Murder, fire, lynching. A group formed to avenge the death of one of their own strikes fear among their neighbors, not thinking twice about killing someone just for laughing at them. Those who know of a particular doing won't speak a word of it lest they meet with similar vengeance. If they want you in their group, you sign in blood or else. Folks'll even find you dead if the group doesn't like the way you play croquet.

Reading along and I thought "This book is going nowhere" and I was contempla
Darryl Mexic
Jan 26, 2011 Darryl Mexic rated it liked it
I read this novel because I loved his later novel, “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter”. It was disappointing only because it did not compare favorably with the latter one. It takes place in 1897 in rural Alabama and involves a war of sorts between the “city” folks of some tiny Alabama hamlet, and the rurals of a nearby town. There are lots of killings and weird characters. The main character is an aging sheriff who is the good guy and several really bad dudes. It is a fun read but nothing spectacu ...more
Nov 22, 2013 Mike rated it it was ok
Shelves: southern
Some fairly interesting set pieces and characters, but flat, predictable, and poorly paced, with the end collapsing in a tired heap. 2.5 stars.
Review under construction.
Jul 19, 2012 Pat rated it really liked it
This is a historical fiction about a real life gang called Hell at the Breech that declared war on the nearby towns of Grove Hill and Coffeeville in 1890s Alabama. This took place during a time when the merchants in the towns kept the poor farmers in perpetual debt, and anger over their situation led in part to the war between the two. There are as many questions as there are answers as to what really happened, and Tom Franklin's fictional portrayal imagines the truth behind the events.

Alex Hoshor
Jun 05, 2012 Alex Hoshor rated it it was amazing
awesome. a historical retelling of a blood-soaked feud that puts old west flavor in old south mouths. a narrative so enveloping that you actually get your clothes dirty reading it. beautiful writing of a gritty and often very grisly time and place laced with humor and humanity.

**if one qualm must be had about it, which one doesn’t, but… i would only say that at times i wondered if character behaviors were being fudged to draw hero/villain distinctions for the sake of broader audience appeal, or
Christina Ramos
May 25, 2011 Christina Ramos rated it really liked it
It took me three tries to finally get through the first chapter of this book and onward through the rest of it. If the descriptions of a boy drowning a sack of puppies or slitting the throat of a snapper turtle only to find it still upside-down clinging to life the next day doesn't completely turn you off from reading the rest of the book you are in for a hell of a ride. Tom Franklin is as fine a writer as any produced in the South, and this here is his first novel. It is a fictionalized account ...more
Feb 03, 2014 Jim rated it really liked it
Loosely based on actual events in 1890s Alabama that pitted poorer oppressed white farmers against their town-based creditors and tormentors (and reflecting racial, economic, and cultural divides common during the crop lien period), Franklin has created a Cormac McCarthy-like tale of violence. His characters are complex and the story interesting, though those who are unaccustomed to the McCarthy style (which call I "everyone dies") might want to approach cautiously. Although Franklin casts his c ...more
Krok Zero
Jun 29, 2009 Krok Zero rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: summer-2009
Drags a bit in the middle, and character motivations aren't always clear, but on balance I was very taken with Franklin's mix of thriller momentum and Faulknerian pastoral reverie. Franklin's descriptive powers are strong as hell. He really puts you there in turn-of-the-century rural Alabama—which, according to this book, was not a nice place to live at all. Some of the prose is strikingly beautiful and haunting, never moreso than the incredible opening passage about how nighttime is a relief fr ...more
Jun 05, 2012 Phil rated it it was amazing
Man, what a vicious book. Now that William Gay and Harry Crews have passed in the past year, I think that Tom Franklin may be the dean of southern atrocities. This guy can write up a storm. Has a very nice feel for dialogue. And most importantly, Franklin can tell a story. This particular story is rooted in fact, which makes it all the scarier, and concerns some deep south Alabama in-fighting around the turn of the twentieth century. Franklin portrayal of sharecropping poverty and the unrelentin ...more
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Tom Franklin was born and raised in Dickinson, Alabama. He held various jobs as a struggling writer living in South Alabama, including working as a heavy-equipment operator in a grit factory, a construction inspector in a chemical plant and a clerk in a hospital morgue. In 1997 he received his MFA from the University of Arkansas. His first book, Poachers was named as a Best First Book of Fiction b ...more
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“Dawn crept up out of the trees, defining a bole, a burl, a leaf at a time the world he'd spent the night trying to comprehend. But what would daylight offer except the illusion of understanding? At least in darkness you were spared the pretending.” 5 likes
“What damn fool punches his own horse?” 3 likes
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