Skip to main content

The More They Disappear


The More They Disappear

It is the cover of THE MORE THEY DISAPPEAR that draws you in at first. I’m detecting a resurgence of book covers that actually, after a general hiatus of some years, do their job of luring the reader in. This is one of them. It’s a haunting photograph, an uneasy signpost that all is not well, perfect in every way. It’s the prose of debut author Jesse Donaldson that sits you in the chair for however long it takes for you to read this majestic piece of south-of-Cincinnati noir, which starts off dark and becomes incrementally more so, as its complex plot progresses, tugging at your attention and your heart throughout.

THE MORE THEY DISAPPEAR takes place over a very restless October in 1998, when the drug trade that now burns through rural areas of the south and midwest was just starting to take hold. The story begins by introducing Lew Mattock, the sheriff of Marathon, Kentucky. Mattock is never particularly engaging; he seems basically wrong, though extremely interesting, from the outset. While he is somewhat quickly dispatched in the early goings of the book, in a manner that would have made a fine vignette in Fargo, his presence lingers throughout the narrative, all the way to the final pages, as the layers of his activity and personality are posthumously peeled back to reveal the rot and corruption beneath.

"It’s the prose of debut author Jesse Donaldson that sits you in the chair for however long it takes for you to read this majestic piece of south-of-Cincinnati noir..."

Mattock’s chief deputy, Harlan Dupee, quickly assumes the position of sheriff, and as one might expect, he is tasked with investigating Mattock’s murder. Those around Dupee don’t seem to think much of his abilities initially, particularly because his manner is less than somewhat intimidating. He quickly grows into the job, however, as his plodding, even boring investigative methods and innate instincts slowly tug him towards the truth.

There is no mystery for the reader. We are told who murdered Mattock as the event occurs in the book’s early pages. The question that is raised is why Mary Jane Finley, a fallen high school beauty queen who is washed up at 18, would do such a thing as kill a law enforcement officer with a sniper’s rifle. Mary Jane, who is addicted to the OxyContin supplied to her by her boyfriend, Mark Gaines, has her reasons, even without the manipulation that he readily provides. It is Mark’s father, a one-time star surgeon who has limited practice privileges and morals to match, who is at the heart of much that goes on in this book. He is connected to the dead sheriff by marriage --- Dr. Gaines’ daughter is married to Mattock’s son, Lewis --- and much, much more. 

There are ley lines that run through this small Kentucky town near the Ohio border, and they are loaded with evil and despair. Dupee uses a small, almost inconsequential bit of evidence to make an obvious but still brilliant deduction to arrive at the truth of what has occurred. But the events themselves, and the environs of Marathon, still vibrate and haunt far beyond the book’s final pages.

THE MORE THEY DISAPPEAR heralds the arrival of a major new literary talent in Jesse Donaldson. The story is complete in itself, but his Marathon remains full of potential tales, including one that is chillingly raised in two sentences within the second-to-last paragraph. Whether or not he returns to Marathon, I cannot wait to read what Donaldson writes next.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 12, 2016

The More They Disappear
by Jesse Donaldson