“Beyond the Higher Ground” by Thomas A. Brigger is a very impressive book! I was initially unsure if I’d enjoy it, as it’s about a man sent to rural Virginia to oversee the building of a new prison. I opted to give it a try based on the location, as I’m from near that area, and have traveled through locations mentioned in the book. I’m SO glad I did! (If the prison aspect is holding you back, no worries…what matters is the location, not what is being built. Tuck could have been building a strip mall or apartment complex….what’s important is that he is in that place at that time. This is NOT a prison story.)
That being said….this book was so much more than I expected! The author obviously knows both the area and the construction business well, and it shows throughout the story. Everything rings true, and the descriptions of the area are detailed and allow the reader to vicariously appreciate the view. Despite the often-dark elements of the story, the reader is always reminded that everything is taking place in a region of astounding natural beauty.
The story itself centers around Tuck, who is sent to live in this area for roughly 18 months while he oversees the building project. In the course of this time, he encounters and deals with a lot…his actual job, new friends, friendly locals, hostile locals, bizarre occurrences, and the local drug trade. During it all, he’s still trying to process the unexpected death of his young wife, and figuring out how to move on with his life.
There is plenty going on throughout the book, with the action really ramping up toward the end. By that time, I was strongly invested in several other characters in addition to Tuck, and really cared about what happened to them.
There is plenty of harsh reality in this book….it’s not a light, fun read. The various aspects of the drug trade and their effects on the mostly lower-income locals are addressed realistically, which means not in a pretty way. Nothing gratuitous is thrown in just for shock value, and there’s no excessive violence or gore. I still walked away feeling truly saddened by the knowledge that things like these happen in real life every day, both in the book’s area and in other parts of the country.
You’ll meet some admirable characters: Tuck, who is trying to do his job (and the right thing), Cletus (who is trying to stand up for what he believes in), Sally (who is trying to make everyone happy and comfortable), Cecil (who has an amazing life story to share), and others. It was fascinating getting to know them all, and to learn more about the history of the area through the lives of certain characters.
There are two special, happy bits near the end….one a minor character moment/reveal that I didn’t see coming, and one a glimpse into the future that I’d been hoping for. I won’t say more to avoid spoilers, but I appreciated both of these thoughtful touches from the author.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the quality of the writing itself…it is excellent! There is true poetry contained in some of the passages, and I often found myself stopping to re-read a sentence or two, just to appreciate the beauty of the language.
Give this one a try…I highly recommend it!
Five out of five chunks of spicy Pepper-Jack!