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Not much happens in Contrary, West Virginia – a sleepy town with failing coal mines, a few old moonshine stills, and an urgent need for revenue. A federal grant for a nonexistent bus system seemed just the ticket – if only the government auditor, sent to look things over, hadn’t drunk too much white lightning. And ended up dead.

Now his successor, Owen Allison, has come down from D.C. to check out the situation. Disgruntled with his life inside the Beltway, Owen is willing to give Contrary’s oficials the benefit of the doubt–and himself some time to romance Mary Beth, the alluring town controller. He soon feels like seventeen different kinds of fool. Because something has long been fermenting in Contrary besides corn mash. Another body has been found. And Owen may be next… unless he uncovers the big secrets hidden in the hearts of a small Appalachian town.

“Evoking K. C. Constantine’s Mario Balzic novels, this impressive debut bodes well for a strong series.”

“A funny, sometimes touching story.”
Publishers Weekly

Media Reviews

San Jose Mercury News:

The Contrary Blues introduces Owen Allison, a likable federal transportation inspector wo finds himself drawn into the small coal-ming town’s scam after the previous inspector turns up dead on a slag heap. It seems Contrary bills the federal government for 20 buses in its transportation system, called the Contrary Comet. The number of buses the Contrary Comet actually operates is two.

Though a couple of the characters remain Southern stereotypes, Allison and several of the Contrarians he meets are individuals, sharply drawn. Something of a Boy Scout in his approach to life, Allison gets seduced by the crafty hayseeds like many a virgin, protesting all the way. But Billheimer succeeds at more than comedy. There’s also poignancy in the fate of a West Virginia Vietnam vet who’s determined to dig coal out of his own mountain, even as he drinks himself to sleep to quiet his nightmares.

Billheimer, who lives in Portola Valley, grew up in West Virginia. He speaks with fondness of Contrary that, thanks to the bus scam, glistens while the other mining towns succumb to “boarded up store fronts and streets covered with thin layers of coal dust.” You have to love a town where the only hair salon calls itself, simply, BARBER SHOP. This is a funny book, and, in Billheimer’s hands, West Virginia may become a favorite destination.

-Susan Cohen, San Jose Mercury News

San Francisco Chronicle:

…The first is “The Contrary Blues,” (St. Martin’s Press) by Portola Valley-ite John Billheimer. It’s a detective novel with a unique twist on character.

In most detective books, the central figure is someone who makes things happen. Billheimer’s Owen Allison is a man to whom things happen.

I’m a big fan of the detective novel (Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block, Walter Mosley), and Billheimer’s debut has all the right elements–good characters, sharp dialogue and an intriguing mystery at the heart of it all.

Billheimer’s book can be found in local stores.

-Mark Simon, San Francisco Chronicle