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First the Thunder


First the Thunder

Randall Silvis is an author’s author. Those who write for a living (or aspire to do so) could hardly do better than to study his significant body of work, which has been critically acclaimed and recognized throughout the world. His straightforward storytelling style does not meander or wander, yet he gently nudges readers into the story that takes place off the printed page. While there is occasional violence in his work, it is neither gratuitous nor does he rely on it to move the narrative through otherwise transitory passages. Instead, it is sharp characterization in real-world settings that immerses us in a novel that demands to be read.

That brings us to FIRST THE THUNDER, a slow-boiling yet fast-moving rustbelt thriller that doesn’t have a lot of moving parts and doesn’t need them. The book’s basic thread is provided by three brothers living in a small Pennsylvania town that has seen much better days. Stevie, the youngest, scrabbles through life picking up unskilled jobs. He is regarded as somewhat mentally deficient and treated as such, due to an accident in his early teens, but is actually more plagued by underachievement occasioned by low expectations than anything else. He is quite content to go through life working odd jobs by day and eating pizza at night.

"...a slow-boiling yet fast-moving rustbelt thriller... FIRST THE THUNDER is an impressive work --- one of this year’s best --- by an author who never disappoints."

Will, the middle brother, owns a bar that he envisioned would provide him with a comfortable living with minimal effort. He is wrong on both counts. The bar barely covers its own expenses, forcing his wife, Laci, to support the family (including their teenage daughter) by working as a newspaper and police department photographer.

Harvey, the oldest, runs a sales and delivery route for a sausage company and makes a good living while being married to Jennalee, the woman of his dreams. He should be the happiest of the three (at least on paper) but is far from it. His brother-in-law, Kelly, used to be his best friend, but a series of incidents, most of which Harvey will not discuss, upended their relationship. He appears to be angry primarily over a vintage Indian motorcycle Kelly is selling that he believes rightfully belongs to him.

The first half of the book is devoted to setting the mood of this piece, and a wondrous first half it is, as Harvey’s anger grows and he draws his brothers into a vague plan of revenge. A plot is hatched and carried out, but its execution happens to reveal a longstanding secret, which in turn ripples through the small community where the brothers have lived their entire lives. The cataclysmic results are by turns tragic and uplifting, as an unintentional sacrifice leads to unexpected redemption, at least for some involved.

FIRST THE THUNDER is an impressive work --- one of this year’s best --- by an author who never disappoints. Set aside a long evening and start reading. You won’t want to stop, even as you reach the end of the story.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 16, 2018

First the Thunder
by Randall Silvis

  • Publication Date: November 6, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 318 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
  • ISBN-10: 1503905489
  • ISBN-13: 9781503905481