Guest Post by Ira Smith
Eli Cranor’s debut novel, Don’t Know Tough, published by Soho Crime, an imprint of Soho Press, is not your typical football novel. Rather, it depicts a brutal slice of life in rural Arkansas, where high school football is king and is all that matters. The protagonist, Billy Lowe, is the archetypal angry young man. An ignorant high school senior and star of the football team, Billy’s anger is compounded by his mother’s abusive boyfriend, who lives with them in their trailer in rural Arkansas. After being beaten by the boyfriend and hitting him back, Billy takes his anger out on a teammate during practice, injuring him. Then, his Mom’s abusive boyfriend is found murdered, and Billy becomes a suspect. From that point, the novel hurtles at breakneck speed to its surprising conclusion. I could not stop reading Don’t Cry Tough. Cranor’s writing is riveting, and his characterizations are perfect. Despite my initial impression of Billy as simple and stupid, as the book goes on, the author skillfully transforms him into a complex human being I actually cared for. As for the setting in rural Arkansas, I could picture the trailers, the woods, and the poverty-stricken homes where some of the characters live. The football scenes were quite well done, and rightly so as the author did play professional football. Despite the twists and turns, all the plot lines were brilliantly resolved. This is Eli Cranor’s first novel, and I already can’t wait for his follow-up.
Don’t Know Tough by Eli Cranor. Soho Crime, March 2022.
Reviewer bio: Ira Smith is a retired physician for whom reading has been a lifelong passion. Favorite genres are science fiction, noir, and history.