The Man Who Made the Devil Glad

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Progress is having a dubious impact on Tucker County, West Virginia. Modern logging techniques have stripped the hills of trees and eroded the soil. In what remains of the “pretty country,” city people have started buying up land for vacation homes and driven the price of small tracts out of the range of the locals. MTV has taken over the minds of the children, and cocaine has supplanted white lightning as the drug of choice.

A few men still live by the old code. Sheriff Cub Hamill is one of them. When election time rolls around, Hamill tries to avoid the demeaning business of campaigning. Rather than match wits with the Bible-thumping, born-again deputy who is running against him, Cub takes to the hills to track down a coyote that has been killing local livestock. The coyote tests all of the sheriff’s hunting skills, and seems to be in every way a worthier adversary than his political opponent.

Then it becomes clear that another kind of predator has been killing Tucker County livestock, and Tucker County voters too. Cub learns that a drug-addled state trooper is responsible and that he and his girlfriend may be the crazed trooper’s next targets. This time Cub’s strategy calls for different tracking skills. He travels to a dying mining town and a prison to collect clues, and to Memphis, Tennessee, where a side trip to the Elvis memorial at Graceland inspires him to new heights of cynicism.

Cub Hamill is a Hemingwayesque character who delights in a fine piece of machinery and takes an almost mystical pleasure in the precise rituals of the hunt. A 1950 Dodge Power Wagon merits several paragraphs of rhapsodic prose, and those sections of the book that show Cub in his tracking mode--when he looks at the world out of the corner of his eye -- are almost poetic. Like his hero, McCaig is conservative, almost reactionary: there are no postmodern ironies here. In fact, this down-to-earth novel might be seen as the literary equivalent of a 1950 Power Wagon, an old-fashioned yet dependable vehicle that outperforms many “new and improved” models.

THE MAN WHO MADE THE DEVIL GLAD proves conclusively that the success of McCaig’s best-selling novel NOP’S TRIALS was no fluke. This is one of those rare books that will appeal to young adults, senior citizens, and finicky literature majors alike.