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A Time To Kill

Hell breaks loose in Pennsyltucky.

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When Tristan Egolf's new novel, Kornwolf, opens, there's already big trouble in Stepford County in the great state of Pennsyltucky in 1992. This is farming country, the "Amish Basin," due west of Philth Town (think Philadelphia), and to add to rising property taxes, rapid commercial development, a brand-new Sprawl Mart, and ongoing tensions between the "Dutchies" (aka the "Plain Folk," the Anabaptists, which include the Amish) and the "Redcoats" (aka the "English," which means reglur Amercuns), there's a werewolf wreaking havoc. Or so it seems based on the widespread cases of breaking and entering, criminal trespassing, destruction of property, arson, and livestock killings in the towns of Blue Ball, Lamepeter, Laycock, Intercourse, and Paradise.

There's even a blurry photo of the beast doing the dirty work, but how to describe it? Sort of a dog seen from the back, on its hindlegs, skin sores running. A mud-thrown kangaroo with a scorched pompadour. Richard Nixon with clotted fur and mange. Or is it, in the words of Owen Brynmor -- a 30-year-old reporter newly returned to the area after a string of firings from two-bit newspapers, a prodigal son suffering from monster-size nicotine withdrawal and now working for the Stepford Daily Plea -- "something right out of a waste dump in Jersey" or "up from the depths of a portable toilet"?

Looks to be, then, most anything taking the form of any body, so long as it's hideous, ravenous, murderous, and a throwback to the Thirty Years War, when the legend of the "kornwolf" first came on the scene, the scene being 17th-century Germany when the country was rocked by sectarian bloodshed, religious persecution, its lands laid waste, its heretics burned at the stake, "The Time of the Killing."

Sort of like what's happening in Stepford County. Sort of, and to the tune of "Angel of Death" by Slayer off their album Reign in Blood -- the very tune that sends an 18-year-old boy by the name of Ephraim Bontrager, son of an abusive, alcoholic Amish minister named Benedictus (who's also operating a puppy mill) into fits of superhuman violence. (The flip side? To calm himself, Ephraim plays "Possum," aka George Jones, to the tune of "A Good Year for the Roses.")

Is Ephraim suffering from Maple Syrup Urine Disease (don't ask), a condition prevalent among the Amish of Stepford? Or is it Glutaric Aciduria One, equally common among Pennsyltucky's "Dutch"? Or is it a mix of schizophrenia, rabies, porphyria, psychomotor epilepsy, and manic depressive psychosis with hysterical neurosis of the dissociative type? Maybe it's simply lycanthropy.

Grizelda Hostler knows. She's Ephraim's creepy aunt, Benedictus' sister ... Benedictus who married Maria Speicher, who died giving birth to Ephraim but whose brother, Jacob, went to "the Nam" and came back Jack Stumpf, the owner of a boxing gym and training ground for a junior welterweight champ named Roddy Lowe. Owen Brynmor gets to serve in Lowe's corner (when he's not investigating the history of werewolves) during a prize fight in Philth Town, but what Lowe has to do with this story, dunno, because the real fight occupies the gruesome, closing 70 pages, during which all hell breaks loose: Teenagers go nuts, a policeman gets a candle up his rectum, Grizelda loses her head, and the Blue Ball Devil reigns in blood. And yet, as the last line of Kornwolf reads, "this story never ends ... ."

But it does. It's Tristan Egolf's third and final novel. At the age of 33, on May 7, 2005, he shot himself, leaving a fiancée, a daughter, and us with a book that starts satirically wicked good, gets midway confusingly, needlessly sidetracked, and ends up, sad to say, haywire.

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