The store had opened in 1988 by Roger and Jan O’Connor and, when it closed in 2009, held 50,000 used books. I spent a good deal of time in that store while I was in Kansas. So did Scott Phillips.
Ten years back, Scott and I chatted about the O’Connors and that store, as Roger O’Connor happened to have been the self-proclaimed leading expert on the Bloody Benders, the serial killers in Cottonwood, my favorite Scott Phillips book.
And it is the historical aspect of the Benders that ground the book. The Benders were a family of four who lived and killed in rural Kansas shortly after the American Civil War. They would lure guests to their inn, seat them to dinner, then hammer-whack them in the temple, and toss them down a trap door. The beautiful brutality of the Bloody Benders here is Scott Phillips at his best.
What’s compelling about this book from the beginning is Bill Ogden’s dark, troubled, biting voice. His bed-hopping and his photography are wonderfully particular aspects used to build his character, hone his voice, and tell his story. Ogden is unforgettable. What holds the book together, though, is the historical truth underpinning the narrative, the bodies beneath the floorboard, the historical dark secret of a family inn outside a Kansas boomtown.
Scott Phillips weaves fact and fiction throughout this book, thanks in large part to his discussions with Roger O’Connor of Mostly Books. For that contribution to one of my favorite books, I forgive the O’Connors their banning me from their store.
That Left Turn at Albuquerque, the latest novel by Scott Phillips is available now. Grab a copy at your favorite local bookstore through Indie Bound or from
Subterranean Books (they'll have signed editions)
Barnes & Noble
Country Hardball and the founding editor and publisher of Needle: a magazine of noir. He grew up on the border of Louisiana and Arkansas. He holds an MFA in creative writing from Louisiana State University, and currently works for a newspaper group. He lives with his family in Virginia. Follow him on Twitter @steveweddle.