Since the 2016 US Election, most people now know that Pennsylvania is much more than Philadelphia and its suburbs. Between the City of Brotherly Love and Pittsburgh, there is a vast land filled with farms, forests, mountains and, yes, even Harrisburg. Set in north central Pennsylvania, Rusty Barnes’ Ridgerunner (280 Steps) is a novel about the clash of two families, one that is sort-of law-abiding and another, not so much.
The Pittmans are a family of poachers and hillbilly hoodlums where the boys “were born, bred, and mature criminals by age sixteen”. The Riders are rednecks figuring out how to get by within the confines of society as the land around them is being forever changed by fracking. Ridgerunner opens with Matt Rider, a part-time game warden for the Commonwealth, following two of the oldest Pittmans, Soldier and Jake, through the woods and hills. Pursuing the Pittmans is one thing, capturing them is another. Matt is shot and then subsequently falls into an abandoned well. After Matt is rescued, the chase begins, though which family is doing the chasing changes several times throughout the book.
Barnes, who grew up in northern Pennsylvania where much of Ridgerunner takes place, has a precise attention to geographic detail, whether the characters referring to Pennsylvania as PA — pronounced letter by letter, not as Pa (father) — or how the ATV and animal trails vein through the woods. And then there are guns, lots of guns. The amount of guns that Matt owns is not an exaggeration; guns are tools for those that live in the country, different guns for different purposes whether it is for work, deer hunting or ridding one’s property of squirrels.
I broke down and cleaned the .40 first, awkward as hell with one hand, as it had survived the bottom of a well and deserved better treatment than I usually gave it. Then I lovingly took care of the 9mm Glock 19 and my .22 . I wrapped the .22 in its holster and deposited it on top of the fridge out of reach of any prying hands. The .40 went back with the uniform, and the 9mm on my bedside table. I left them all loaded. Then I took the plug out of my shotgun, loaded it, and set it with a box of shells by the back door.
At times I had problems with Matt’s motivation as he goes through the novel with a “hold my beer and watch this” mentality. But in order to enjoy Ridgerunner, one must realize that the character’s deep-seated hatred of cops, a liberal use oxy, and redneck revenge fantasies, fuel the character’s impulses.