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Oregon Hill (Willie Black #1)

3.47  ·  Rating details ·  202 Ratings  ·  51 Reviews
Willie Black is a newspaper reporter who has squandered a lot of things in this life - his liver, his lungs, a couple of former wives and a floundering daughter can all attest to his abuse. He's lucky to be employed, having managed to drink and smart-talk his way out of a nice, cushy job covering (and partying with) the politicians down at the capitol.

Now, he's back on the
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published July 2012 by The Permanent Press (first published June 21st 2012)
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James Thane
Dec 20, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: crime-fiction
Willie Mays Black is a newspaper man on the downhill slide in an industry that would seem to be sliding down right behind him. Willie once had the capitol beat, covering politics, but he pretty much screwed that up and has been demoted to the night-shift crime beat, probably the last stop on the road to unemployment.

Then a young woman is murdered and beheaded. Most of the body is dumped into a river where it's discovered a few days later. The head is mailed to the poor victim's father. The Richm
Oct 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Review after bookgroup
Dark and gritty, grounded in an unflinching depiction of time and place, and built on bitter loves and truths, Howard Owen’s evocatively secretive Oregon Hill solves a present murder mystery by following echoes from the past. Protagonist Willie Black is an old-school reporter. He never lets anyone beat him to the press, even if he has been reassigned to the night cops, lowest of the low in this new-world, money-oriented, technologically twisted day. Of course, those cops and lawyers keep secrets ...more
Jan 07, 2016 rated it liked it
Writing-wise, this is a pretty solid book. It flowed well and kept a steady pace. Unfortunately, I tend to not care for protagonists with super addictive personalities, and our "hero" in this story is a compulsive smoker and drinker who also has some womanizer in him. I get flawed characters, but it was actually hard for me to like Willie Black. He seemed like he was almost entirely flaws. To be fair, the guy grew up in a pretty shady place, so I guess it made him more realistic. I did appreciat ...more
May 24, 2012 rated it really liked it

Willie Black is a man you'd love to get to know over a couple beers. He's a newspaper reporter on "the cops' beat" who learns of a local college girl who is found murdered. The police quickly arrest one suspect. Willie, being the through journalist that he is, wonders if this suspect is the right person arrested.

This is a definite page turner. There were many times I wanted to finish reading for the night and somehow I could not refrain from stopping at the end of the chapter (or chapters).
Nora Gaskin Esthimer
Aug 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Don't you love finding a new author? This is Howard Owen's 10th novel, so I can look forward to reading backward. I also look forward to reading the sequel to this one. I really want to know what happens to Peggy, Les, and Awesome Dude. Oh, Willie and Lisa and Andi and etc, too.

Oregon Hill is as atmospheric as Tana French's books so reminds me of them, but homegrown. It's nice to see a southern American city made complex, not cliche. Willie Black, the narrator, is a good noir character--cynical
”Growing up in Oregon Hill wasn’t easy for anyone. If your father was an African-American, current address unknown, the s—t got exponentially deeper.
Back then, the Hill was as white as a virgin’s wedding gown. It had been a working-class community, kind of a mill town hidden away inside a city, full of German and Irish and Italian ironworkers.”

Howard Owen has had his novels published since the early 1990’s. Because he is local to this part of Virginia, I have been hearing about his writing for y
Oct 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library-copy
This is a first person accounting of a reporter facing corruption and evil in his town. I normally do not like first person, but Howard Owen does it well.

There are a lot of interesting characters here, and Willie may be the sanest one. Certainly the newspaper folk are all business first and cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

Willie's family and friends are all needy and somewhat dependent on him for support of one kind or another.

Having grown up in the town where he is still living cau
Edward Smith
Sep 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Had a little trouble getting into the story when it first started, too much of a cliché -hard drinking, hard biting crime reporter who has seen everything, has multiple failed marriages, estranged relationship with children and barely hanging on to his job in a failing industry. However eventually the story breaks through and pulls you into it's orbit and it is worth the wait.

I did not expect that ending. Came off as real but was not on my radar for potential outcomes.

I will be on the lookout fo
Nov 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Really enjoyed the setting in this one. It strongly reminded me of Lehane's Boston setting and narration. Everyone in the community is known or is an outsider. Not many secrets stay hidden and there is a lot of violence. The first-person narrator carries the book. He's got a lot of flaws but it never really feels too dark or goes overboard. The plot is good but it didn't really grab me by the throat and it's not a mystery that takes much guessing. It's not a long book so it's worth the time.
Clay Stafford
A colorful reporter who is a sardonic spectator. The wrong perpetrator charged. The reporter saves the day. You probably think you’ve read this story before. But you would be wrong. This is so much better than those other books you might have read. Author Howard Owen is a brilliant observer of people. Set in Richmond in the dying world of print newspapers, this first person narrative is Southern investigative noir at its finest. I love the dialogue. It has that rare combination of being both plo ...more
Bill Glose
Aug 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Oregon Hill is a mystery novel written in a style that channels the spirit of Mickey Spillane. Quite a departure for Howard Owen, whose nine previous novels are more literary in nature and favor questions about the human condition over gun battles and dead bodies. He might never have written this novel at all if not for being asked to contribute to an anthology called Richmond Noir. After writing a short story titled “The Thirteenth Floor” that featured a protagonist named Willie Black, he fell ...more
Jun 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
When the headless body of college student Isabel Ducharme is found snagged on a tree branch in the South Anna River of Richmond, Virginia, night beat reporter Willie Mays Black knows this will be a big story. And Willie desperately needs a big story. Approaching 50 and thrice-divorced, he knows his long-term employment prospects at the newspaper are rapidly dimming. So, when his former wife Kate agrees to defend the prime suspect in Isabel’s murder—one Martin Fell—and asks for his help in provin ...more
Alison Hardtmann
Nov 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is pure classic noir in the best possible way. Willie Black is a journalist working for a dying newspaper in Richmond, VA. He was recently demoted to cover the night crime beat and he's got three ex-wives and a daughter who will occasionally return his calls. Black covers the murder of a college student and while the cop in charge is quick to get a confession from her boyfriend, Black begins to find enough to make him question the man's guilt. Of course, digging into an already solved case ...more
Oct 04, 2013 rated it liked it
Oregon Hill. (2012). Howard Owen. ***.
This was the first novel featuring Willie Black, an investigative reporter at a Richmond, VA, newspaper. Willie is mixed race, and comes from a section of the city known as Oregon Hill. His beat is ‘night cops,’ covering the nighttime activities of Richmond’s police, trolling for stories. He is a heavy smoker and drinker, and has gone through three wives. He has one teenaged daughter who is a student at one of Richmond’s colleges. In this story, a co-ed who
Jun 20, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: netgalley
I really wanted to like this book but it was not to be. Willie Mays Black, a mixed race reporter in the small town of Oregon Hill, Virginia, is sure the man the police arrested is innocent of the brutal murder of a young college co-ed. So much of the book is predicable. The hero has the obligatory failed marriages, poor relations with his child, job failure and drinking problem. Of course Willie is not such a bad fellow he does have a heart of gold. The other characters are equally stereotypical ...more
May 30, 2012 rated it liked it
3.5/5 stars

Oregon Hill by Howard Owen is an exciting mystery thriller centered around one newspaper reporter’s investigation into a murder that most others believe to be an open and shut case. Owen gives excellent character introductions, especially of the protagonist, Willie Black, whose earlier reporting days brought him deep within the powerful political circle. Having allowed personal vices get the best of him, Willie is now thankful to be covering the local police scene in Oregon Hill. In e
Mar 05, 2015 rated it liked it
Well it's about this guy whose life story begins with, 'I probably shouldn't have', and ends with, 'but I did'. Actually not to spoil anything, but, it doesn't really end here, which gives him plenty of time to keep repeating this mantra, with a certain amount of self-effacing charm and a great deal of persistence.

Yes, a likeable character, with plenty of charm, sliding down life's slippery path, with a little weary smile on his lips,and the ever present smell of alcohol on his breath. And yet,
May 24, 2012 rated it liked it
I received this as a first reads winner. I enjoyed this book. The story takes place over a short period of time. Willie, who is a newspaper reporter, works to uncover who really killed the girl when he doesn't believe who the police has in custody is the real killer. There are some twist and turns and Willie is keeping the truth from certain people in his life and the author is also keeping the truth from the readers until the last minute. I didn't put two and two together until the Willie was h ...more
Sep 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
I read this with a book group of ladies. It went over pretty well! The "whodunit" plot worked pretty well, and they also enjoyed the the "local color" of authentic and intimate details of living in Richmond Virginia. Did it tie up too neatly at the end? Maybe, but I did not rebel at that, and neither did they. There was a certain freshness to getting a crime story from the POV of a broken down newspaperman struggling into the Internet age with woman issues and a drinking problem. You wanted to d ...more
May 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
I won Oregon Hill in a first reads giveaway.

It was a great thriller, set from the perspective of a newspaper crime reporter. The characters were flawed and multi-faceted, which added a large amount of realism to the work. Oregon Hill, the neighborhood in Richmond, Virginia, where the story takes place, was described with such detail that I felt like I had already been there. The dialogue was also great, which added to both the characterization and the sense of setting.

The plot had enough twists
Aug 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I should first confess my soft spots for 1) journalists who turn to fiction (Pete Dexter, Annie Proulx, even Dave Barry) and 2) what might be termed modern urban realism (as practiced by George Pelecanos, Richard Price, David Simon, etc.). So I was an easy mark for Oregon Hill since Owen's writing has similarities to the works of all these authors.

It is a great story, skillfully told. Maybe one of those rare smart guys in Hollywood will option it, and turn it into a great screenplay. Steven Klov
Jul 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a character driven mystery set in the South, with a newspaper reporter instead of a cop or private investigator as the sleuth. The writing is good, the characters believable, the mystery although predictable, is well done. I think murder mysteries where the motives go back years are often the most satisfying, even though murder in real life is almost always an impulsive act.
I enjoyed it, and I would read more stories featuring Willie Mays Black, his eccentric family, neighborhood and co
May 16, 2014 rated it liked it
Being from the Richmond area this story kept me entertained with the familiarity of my own stomping grounds. Owen did his research, and is spot on, but I doubt the mentioning of localities would do much to captivate the attention of an outsider. After a while I found his obsession with race a bit tedious as it is not integral to the plot. Still, he spins a pretty good yarn keeping a good pace with a tidy outcome albeit a bit predictable. I enjoyed this extremely quick read and most likely will s ...more
Oct 15, 2012 rated it liked it
I am such a sucker for protagonists who are journalists at dying publication. I have less patience with the predictable self-destructive / alcoholic protagonist, but I can suck it up. I used to live where this book is set, which is what led me to pick it up in the first place. There was a decent sense of place, but not as much as I'd hoped. Some interesting characters, but a plot I couldn't quite buy into.
Ward Howarth
Aug 03, 2012 rated it liked it
Oregon HIll's protagonist, newspaper man Willie Black, is so jaded, just looking at him could give you a paper cut. Howard's book is a great mystery by way of detailed character study. Full of Richmond-centric places & observations, the story really gets cooking towards the last third. Climax is satisfying, and word has it there's a sequel or two in the works. Looking forward for more. Maybe my favorite part: there's a character named Awesome Dude.
Dec 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The Mystery genre is one of my favorites and this novel really does a good job in giving the crime reporter a distinct voice. It's probably since there are so many little apt descriptions that seem like metaphors like "the web monster" and how the narrator/protagonist Willie Black needs to feed it from his laptop. Throughout the book it's instances like that which make me want to read more.
Linda Owen
Oct 11, 2015 rated it liked it
The best part of the book is its Richmond setting. Willie Black, the protagonist, is less attractive to me, sort of a noir stereotypical newspaper reporter, with a drinking problem, ex-wives, rough friends, but a heart of gold. The crime is horrific but the solution very unrealistic. There are more in the series, but they are not near the top of my list.
Mike Schneider
Dec 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a good murder mystery, introducing Willie Black, a mixed-race reporter on a local newspaper. As he investigates for his story on the murder, he gets the feeling that the police have arrested the wrong man. The story of his further investigation is well-done and provides a good plot
Aaron Novak
Mar 13, 2016 rated it liked it
A fun but predictable piece of crime literature, with Richmond VA as the setting. First of a series of Willie Black novels by Howard Owen that have come out since. Well researched, Richmond residents will enjoy the plethora of local references. #RVA
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Howard Owen was born March 1, 1949, in Fayetteville, N.C. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1971, journalism) and has a master's degree from Virginia Commonwealth University (1981, English).
He and his wife since 1973, Karen Van Neste Owen (the former publisher of Van Neste Books), live in Richmond, Va. He was a newspaper reporter and editor for 44 years.
Owen won
More about Howard Owen...

Other Books in the Series

Willie Black (6 books)
  • The Philadelphia Quarry
  • Parker Field
  • The Bottom
  • Grace (Willie Black, #5)
  • The Devil's Triangle (Willie Black #6)