Crimes in Southern Indiana by Frank Bill

When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.

(To quote Bob Dylan, as I’m wont to do more often than not. This time with good reason. Bob Dylan makes an appearance – albeit briefly – in the pages of Frank Bill’s masterful short story collection.)

This sentiment applies to nearly all of Frank Bill’s characters in his gritty, relentless debut short story collection Crimes in Southern Indiana. The stories are intricately intertwined and when taken as a whole, tell the stories of multiple generations of families – vicious, bloodthirsty, backstabbing, incestuous, drug-addicted, criminal families – but families nonetheless.

Crimes in Southern Indiana

Set against the rural backdrop of southern Indiana, Bill’s collection tell the stories of the downtrodden and the deservedly damned. Every last word is brilliant. From ‘These Old Bones’ (a grandfather pimps out his granddaughter) to ‘Crimes in Southern Indiana’ (not for dog lovers), Bill presents a no holds barred vision of the impoverished, meth-filled landscape of the American Midwest. You’ll find no picket fences, no family game night, and no chance at redemption.

He’d burned his father’s home for insurance money. Shot Esther MacCullum’s dog dead in front of him for a debt he owed. Forced himself upon Needle Galloway’s fourteen-year-old daughter. Opened Nelson Anderson’s skull in the Leavenworth Tavern with a hammer for saying he’d ratted out Willie Dodson on a cross-country dope deal, even though he did it for local law enforcement. And today he’s sold his granddaughter, Knee High Audry, to the Hill Clan to whore out… Yeah, he thought, I’s a son of a bitch.

Despite the subject matter, there’s infinite appeal to be found in the visceral, eye for an eye (or two eyes for an eye, as the case may be) culture embraced by the characters of these stories. Good and evil are so closely connected that they often cannot be separated – it’s impossible to tell where one begins and the other ends. Frank Bill doesn’t mince words. He doesn’t make a harsh, unforgiving world sound (physically) beautiful the way Daniel Woodrell does. He doesn’t write with the empathetic undertones of Donald Ray Pollock. And he doesn’t have the sense of humor that Joe R. Lansdale innately possesses. Yet there is beauty, love, and humor present in the bleakest of moments throughout the stories. But make no mistake; the stories are incredibly violent and graphically so. Every single one of them. Nearly no one is spared and the body count is by no means negligible. If Frank Miller or Quentin Tarantino decided to write about the lives of rural criminals in small town Indiana, it would look a lot like this.

This is not a book for everyone. It’s not even a book for most people. In fact, I’m sure the Indiana Board of Tourism would like to sue Frank Bill for libel. If you have trouble stomaching violence against humans and animals*, if you find drug abuse and economic depression hard to process, or if a cross between pulp fiction and hillbilly noir sounds unappealing, don’t pick up this book. If by some small miracle I still have your attention, purchase Crimes in Southern Indiana immediately – it’s worth owning. Frank Bill has one of the most authentic, original voices I have read in a long time and a wonderful sense of place. It’s the story of survivors, of those who have been pushed beyond their limits, and of those who actions you hope always remain fictional. It’s brilliant. 5/5, but not for the faint of heart.

So are any of you willing to brave the murky, vitriolic writing of Frank Bill? Would it help if I told you he looked just like Zach Galifianakis? No? Didn’t think so. Where do you draw the line in dark literature?

Fall City

Meth-riddled literature is rarely conducive to food recommendations, this is no exception. Thus there is no companion recipe for this review. If you looking for something to go with Crimes in Southern Indiana buy the cheapest beer you can find. Perhaps Falls City? PBR?

*Being the quasi-neurotic worrier** that I am, I ask you: am I open-minded or unbalanced***? Because I enjoyed this book without reservation…
**To end with Bob Dylan: All I can be is me – whoever that is.
***Bob Dylan Post Script: Sometimes it’s not enough to know what things mean, sometimes you have to know what things don’t mean.

(Anyone make it through all those post review caveats?)

16 thoughts on “Crimes in Southern Indiana by Frank Bill

    1. Yep, you were exactly who I thought of. Although honestly, I think you’re the only regular reader who would even get near this book. I think you’d like it quite a bit actually, Donnybrook as well.

      I feel like I should be disturbed by the fact a high body count doesn’t disturb me…but I’m not.


  1. Typically I can read dark stuff fine if it’s fiction. My mind has visual limits somehow….I know what I’m reading but my mind doesn’t have to dwell. (Dark fiction on a TV or movie screen is much harder because you can’t limit the visuals being thrown at you.) So this might work for me. When it’s memoir form and I’m hearing something I know actually happened to the author, it’s harder to swallow. (I’m thinking My Stolen Life, by Jaycee Dugard…haunting. I won’t recommend it to anyone…especially if they have kids.)


    1. I also struggle with fiction based on a true story (like the idea behind House of Glass by Sophie Littlefield). I couldn’t read Jaycee Dugard’s story. I can’t even watch a 9/11 documentary. It’s all too tragic. I know the world has horrible things in it, I just don’t need the details. Even the news bothers me. I don’t know if you’ve seen anything about it, but there was this teacher killed in Massachusetts and they recently released the details of her murder. It’s unimaginably awful. Somehow it just seems wrong to publicly acknowledge the ways she was violated. I just reporters would’ve thought twice before publishing that information.


      1. Oh no I don’t watch the news! Just like you said, I don’t need the details. I didn’t hear the details behind the teacher yet, but I probably will. Usually at lunch someone brings up the latest whatever and everyone discusses. Ugh.


    1. There’s this one scene with a knife and eyes and…ick. So yeah, if you think you might not like the violent bits, I assure you, you will NOT like the violent bits. I can’t imagine Indiana is best pleased by Bill’s books. They’re fabulous though.


  2. Oh man, I love the seedy underbelly of the Midwest, most especially when we’re not talking about Illinois. It’s that thing where you can make fun of your own home, but nobody else better try, you know? But Indiana?! GAME ON!


    1. At least it’s short stories. If you get to it and only read one or two, it’s not like abandoning a book. You’ll have read a story from start to finish, So I say go for it.


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