Darrick MacBrehon, a government auditor, wakes among the dead. Bloodied and disoriented from a gaping head wound, the man who staggers out of the mine crack in Redbird, West Virginia, is much more powerful—and dangerous—than the one thrown in. An orphan with an unknown past, he must now figure out how to have a future.
Hard-as-nails Lourana Taylor works as a sweepstakes operator and spends her time searching for any clues that might lead to Dreama, her missing daughter. Could this stranger’s tale of a pit of bones be connected? With help from disgraced deputy Marco DeLucca and Zadie Person, a local journalist investigating an acid mine spill, Darrick and Lourana push against everyone who tries to block the truth. Along the way, the bonds of love and friendship are tested, and bodies pile up on both sides. In a town where the river flows orange and the founding—and controlling—family is rumored to “strip a man to the bones,” the conspiracy that bleeds Redbird runs as deep as the coal veins that feed it.
At the core of every person, there is a twisted black seam which offsets the good that we might do. Some call it original sin. Others recognize it as karma. It is a swirling darkness of the soul from which no light escapes. In West Virginia, it’s called coal… It’s one of my favorite books of the past year. R.B. Payne in Cemetery Dance
This nicely paced, suspenseful tale, imbued with detailed knowledge of the Appalachian region and the coal mining industry, is aided by Nieman’s rich, artistic language and redolent descriptions of a grim but fascinating literary ecosphere where giant cracks open in the ground, ordinary rock underfoot leaks a kind of vile pus, and orange goo fills the waterways. It’s a strange, disconcerting place populated by thoughtful, articulate people; trigger-happy rent-a-cops; zombies; and residents who can mysteriously evaporate or be stripped to the bone. Nicholas Litchfield in The Colorado Review
Zombie attacks and vampires in the wilds of West Virginia might not seem like fodder for literary fiction. Yet Greensboro novelist and poet Valerie Nieman pulls it off in “To the Bones,” a parable of capitalism and environmental degradation. Ben Steelman in the Wilmington Star-News
Nieman, a former journalist in the Mountain State, knows a lot about economic exploitation, specifically the mining industry’s corner-cutting to create massive profits. And while the tale is steeped in enough terrifying genre tropes to satisfy zombie and vampire enthusiasts like my young former students, such tropes also reveal deep metaphorical truths. About the power of coal’s effect on the human spirit, for instance. Ed Davis in Books for Readers
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Valerie Nieman’s fiction moves fluidly across genre, from mainstream literary to Southern crime to her fourth and most recent novel, To the Bones, a satirical mystery/horror tale that focuses on the coal industry and its effects on Appalachia. “Evocative, intelligent prose conjures an anxious mood and strong sense of place,” wrote Kirkus Reviews. Her third poetry collection, Leopard Lady: A Life in Verse, includes work that first appeared in The Missouri Review, Chautauqua, The Southern Poetry Review, and other journals. On its debut at Coney Island Museum, the curator wrote, “Steeped in sideshow tradition, and addressing issues of race, gender, self-concept, and creative expression, your book is beautifully written.” Her poetry has been published in numerous anthologies, including Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods and Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology. She has held state and NEA creative writing fellowships. A journalism graduate of West Virginia University, she worked as a reporter and editor before returning to college to gain an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. She teaches creative writing at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, NC. Her hobbies include hiking, fishing, and traveling.