Red Dog expands its focus from Down Don’t Bother Me’s look at the ailing coal-mining industry in southern Illinois. In his latest crime novel, Miller turns his attention to a nasty strain of white supremacy rearing its head again in the economically-challenged parts of rural America. Former coal miner Slim, whose last name is never revealed, is now on the trail of a dognapped pit bull, though Miller’s brand of sarcasm and wordplay lighten what could be a journey as dark as the coal mined in Little Egypt.
Miller recently sat down for an interview with Chapter 16. What follows is an excerpt; to hear the full interview, click here.
Chapter 16: Slim has a sign out front of his house that says “Redneck Investigations.” Is he a licensed P.I. now?
Jason Miller: He is licensed, and he works fairly closely with local law enforcement, so Slim is above-board. His teen daughter, Anci, looks after the agency, and Susan from the first book has come on board to be an assistant and business manager. They’re the ones who’ve made sure that Slim is licensed, legal, and bonded.
Chapter 16: Anci has been reading a lot of Sherlock Holmes recently, so she thinks she’s got it all figured out.
Miller: Much [of the story] is based in part on Anci’s summer-reading program. Of course she’s reading The Hound of the Baskervilles at the beginning. It sort of becomes a running gag—the book she’s reading is pacing along with the investigation, sort of an echo of the main narrative. But, yeah, she’s convinced that she’s the mystery solver in the duo. She wants to validate her place in the agency and to impress her dad.
Chapter 16: Going back to the sign out front that says “Redneck Investigations”—I’ll have to say that Slim is much less redneck than his neighbors.
Miller: It’s all relative. Slim’s also a businessman; he’s pitching himself to a certain audience and presenting a certain face. “Redneck Investigations” could refer to Slim or to his clientele, but it’s a little sugar on top to get the clients in and make them feel comfortable.
Chapter 16: You do write about rural America sympathetically. Slim says, “Sometimes I hear places like where I live called ‘real America,’ and I know it rankles some folks, city folks mostly, something awful. And I wish I could tell them it’s only done out of politeness. That it’s only people saying nice things about the dying.”
Miller: I think that people in places like West Virginia and southern Illinois see their way of life going away, their jobs and their communities drying up. It creates a certain hardness of character and an anger that I think isn’t easily directed into something positive. People feel cheated, left behind, powerless, and hopeless. That’s what Red Dog is trying to talk about. I feel that statement from Slim is where that comes home; it’s the sentiment for this book.
Chapter 16: Your books are very funny. My favorite line in Red Dog is when Slim and Jeep are at a diner and trying to have a little fun with the waitress. She tells them, “Boys, Jesus hates an asshole.”
Miller: She reminds me a bit of the waitresses at Rotier’s Restaurant in Nashville, how it used to be a million years ago—that barely hidden contempt for the customer. Those are the people I love to populate the books with, people who are on their feet all day waiting tables. Some joker comes in thinking that he’s a stand-up comic and has a captive audience, and she’s just not having any of it, at all.
Stephen Usery is the producer of Book Talk, an author-interview program that airs daily on WYPL FM 89.3, a service of the Memphis Public Library and Information Center. He lives in Memphis.