Cover Image: Real Bad Things

Real Bad Things

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

Five years after debuting her novel, Cottonmouths, Kelly J. Ford has a new book out. And it's making me think good things about Real Bad Things. While Cottonmouths was set in a fictional small town in Arkansas called Drear's Bluff, Real Bad Things takes place in Maud Bottoms, which is ... also a fictional small town in Arkansas. They say, write about what you know. Kelly J. Ford does that. She knows small-town Arkansas, and she writes it with all flags flying -- the grit, the secrets, the mommy issues, the poverty, the abuse, the good-ol'-boys' complicity, the small-mindedness, the resistance to change. She also knows what it's like to grow up queer in the South. Just like in her first novel, RBT features a lesbian protagonist who gets sucked back into the dramas -- and traumas -- of her youth, her toxic family, and a lost love. But between the two novels' protagonists, I favor Jane Mooney. She is not only willing (if not exactly prepared) to confront her hellish past, but she does so with a wicked keen wit. This novel is Gothic suspense in all its darkness and grit, but there are flashes of humor: "For all she knew, he could have someone locked in his basement with a bucket and a bottle of lotion." For all her past trauma and current confusion, Jane has a sense of humor, and it's sharp as a bottle shard. Once again, Kelly J. Ford delivers a compelling, slow-burn mystery that reaches impressive depths of character and setting.

[Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley for an opportunity to read an advanced reader copy and share my opinion of this book.]

Was this review helpful?

Slow burning suspense and dark reveals

Kelly J. Ford is the author of Real Bad Things (summer 2022) and the award-winning Cottonmouths, a novel of “impressive depths of character and setting” according to the Los Angeles Review, which named it one of their Best Books of 2017. An Arkansas native, Kelly writes about the power and pitfalls of friendship, the danger of long-held secrets, and the transcendent grittiness of the Ozarks and their surroundings. She lives in Vermont with her wife and cat.

All that was left to do was wait for someone to find the body. Or, if they got lucky, wait until everyone forgot about Warren and turned their attention to the next man who went missing.

Real Bad Things by Kelly J. Ford

I’m always drawn to stories set in the small southern towns in the US. There’s something curious about the culture and history; from the Missouri River to the Ozarks that stretch across five states. It’s an area of the country I’d love to spend time exploring someday. This novel does an amazing job setting the scene, and I often found myself completely absorbed in the story, turning pages into the early morning hours. The use of dual narrative and timelines provided in-depth characters with intriguing histories I enjoyed learning about, especially the relationship between Georgia Lee and Jane. The small town vibes felt claustrophobic when Jane returned to Maud, and was faced with the same gossip and judgment she’d escaped years ago. The family dynamics and history kept my attention, and Ford did an amazing job interweaving slow character reveals throughout the present timeline. The structure was clear to follow and I thoroughly enjoyed the slow-burn mystery at the heart of this novel. Although I found the relationship between Jane and her mother difficult to read at times, it was incredibly addictive. I’m always drawn to novels with dark family secrets set in small southern towns and this one definitely delivered. I’m so glad I discovered this author and can’t wait to read more of her work.

4/5 ⭐️
I recommend to readers who love slow-burning mysteries set in small towns, and families with dark secrets.

Was this review helpful?

I wanted to like this book. I tried very hard to get into it. After picking up and putting it down repeatedly in order to read other things, I finally sat down and pushed my way through. I could not connect with this story or this town. I had high hopes. I pushed myself through some parts that just dragged. I did enjoy the way it ended. All in all, it was OK and not really for me.

Was this review helpful?

Thank you to Netgalley, the publisher and the author, for an ARC of this book, in exchange for an honest review.
The synopsis of this book sounded interesting to me so I requested a copy to read.
Unfortunately, I have tried reading this book on 2 separate occasions and during this 2nd attempt, I have
decided to stop reading this book
and state that this book just wasn't for me.
I wish the author, publisher and all those promoting the book much success and connections with the right readers.

Was this review helpful?

Like her previous novel Cottonmouths , this book is set in a rural area that could be anywhere but undeniably is the American South. At no point do we feel the curiously unmoored sensation that many crime-centered stories have, that eternal-now anywhereness. It starts from when Jane is released from steerage, I mean the commuter plane, onto the hot tarmac of a regional airport. Her mother's nasty phone message hissing in her newly single, newly homeless ear, "don't even think of running." Why Ma didn't say "again" is beyond me, because Jane's running hasn't stopped since it was "away to Boston, there a lesbian to be."

So now she's coming back to face the music for confessing to her stepfather's murder a quarter century ago. Note: confessing to. Not murdering. And that demented witch of a mother believes her, always has, she's been squatting in this nowhere town stewing in her rage and hate for the abnormal daughter who (she said she believed) murdered the abusive man who probably would've killed Ma by now had he lived.

Ah. Family ties.

Like many women with no options, her Ma had never met a nice guy and this latest one was the most violent yet. And the whole town knew it. Not a soul stepped in to help...except Jane's young love, Georgia Lee. Things go very Beautiful Creatures for a minute...Jane's brother Jason gets pulled's all a major clusterfuck, in fact, and when it all settles down there's no Warren. I mean, he's dead, but there's no body. So, no body = no crime. Confess til ya turn purple, Janey luv, no body = no crime. She does spend a goodly amount of time in juvenile detention. The second that ends, she gets the hell out of Arkansas.

What is really clear while reading this book is the quiet insanity of country life. People are all up in each other's hip pockets, they know what's happening, but not a soul interferes. Wouldn't be proper, if a woman lets a man beat her up that's her lookout. Those kids won't amount to anything anyway, so what they suffer.

It's really like this, folks. This is what the world is. And it's ugly as all get out.

Now that everything changed because there's a body, surfaced after twenty-five years, Jane's home to face the music.

What music? She was a juvenile, she was in state custody until charges were dropped, and now there's *a* body but no one knows if it's that right one. (Lotsa men disappeared from this town over the years. No one seems to've looked into it. Not like they were anybody much.)

So we have ourselves a problem. What's Jane facing? Trial? Still no body...conviction? LOLOL

Her life. Her mother. Her ex, her first true love Georgia Lee. Even the little brother who simply existed throughout this ordeal, offering nothing to Jane. All that and more; vaster than oceans and more deep is the need in Jane for answers rather than lies or silences. The answers she finally gets are deeply unsettling. I could never call the last meeting of Jason and Jane a case of healing by honesty, but it was certainly an explanation of parts of their past that seemed weird and random.

Kelly J. Ford was formed by Arkansas and she has never forgiven it for that. As revenges go, this book is a great step.

Was this review helpful?

Southern Thriller at its finest. Ford's writing is FANTASTIC. Gripping, suspenseful and corpses! Sign me up.

Was this review helpful?

I've read other reviews and I'm wondering if I'm the only one who found this book to be a bit of a dark comedy along the lines of Knives Out or Clue. Ok, It wasn't necessarily LOL funny, but there was definitely some dark, dry and sarcastic humor throughout that I really enjoyed. It made the intense nature of the story a little easier to bear. I really enjoyed this book and will definitely check out the authors other works!

Was this review helpful?

It’s a good rule of thumb that you shouldn’t talk to the cops if you’re suspected of a crime, and you really should NOT confess to murder if they haven’t found the body yet.

As a teenager Jane Mooney admitted to murdering her abusive step-father before the cops were even sure that he was dead, and she was released when no body turned up. Jane then fled the small Arkansas town of Maud Bottoms, and she left behind her angry mother, her brother, her best friend, and her girlfriend in doing so. Twenty-five years later, the stepfather’s body has finally been discovered, and Jane has returned home believing that she’ll most likely be arrested immediately. She finds that her mother is still angry, her brother and best friend seem to want nothing to do with her, and her old girlfriend, Georgia Lee, is now a married woman as well as on the town council. And for some reason, the cops don’t seem to be in any hurry to arrest her.

Kelly Ford makes their most of the setting which feels lived in and authentic. From the trailer parks to the backyard barbecue of the more well-to-do folks, this nails all the traits of small town life. Against this backdrop we learn what actually happened with Jane, Georgia Lee and the stepfather back then as well as see how those events shaped their lives in the aftermath. Jane left and lived in other places as an openly gay women but has had a shadow over her adult life. Georgia Lee stayed in place and threw herself so fully into the role of a wife, mother, and local politician that she’s never bothered to ask the question of who she really is and what would make her actually happy, and Jane’s return forces her to finally address all of this.

It’s an excellent character based crime story with solid twists and turns.

Was this review helpful?

I had high hopes for this, but sadly, the story seemed to drag. There was a lot of confusion in the storyline, some points and characters that felt unnecessary, and the characters overall didn't feel fully developed. It was hard to connect with and root for anyone. Too many unanswered questions, as well.

Was this review helpful?

A fast-paced book that will keep you hooked. I enjoyed this one immensely and would definitely recommend.

Was this review helpful?

Real Bad Things is a story that kept me intrigued throughout.

When a human skeleton is found on the banks of Arkansas River, everyone thinks that a cold case is coming back to life.

Jane is forced to go back home and face her tragic past when she had to protect herself from an abusive grandfather. And to face jail time because this time, there's a body to prove her sins.

The story is not too fast or slow. It combines various elements of anguish, frustration and various memories. Some of those memories are really graphic and violent.

The police investigation is not described as you would expect in a thriller, as the story is based more on the human feelings and victim's character.

A story that readers will find it intriguing and interesting overall.

🆓📖Very grateful to the publisher for my review copy through NetGalley

Was this review helpful?

Jane really should not go home again but she does. She's been living in Boston for 25 years after confessing to the murder of Warren, her stepfather- a crime for which she wasn't charged because there was no body. But now the body has been found (well, the bones) and she's back. This has some good atmospherics, lots of secrets and lies, but it's light on legit police and legal procedure. It's also, I hate to say it, slow. Thanks to netgalley for the ARC. Meh from me.

Was this review helpful?

Real Bad Things, by Kelly J Ford, is a fast paced suspense! One of those that you just don't want to put down. The main character is well written and interesting. The bad "guys" are definitely the real bad things in the book. I appreciated that the scenes of abuse weren't too detailed or gratuitous.
Years ago Jane Mooney’s abusive stepfather vanished. Everyone would have assumed that he was wasted and fell into the local river. Especially since Jane's mom had hit him across the head with a beer bottle, the night before. But then Jane confessed.
Jane thought she was going to be sent to jail. But without a body, there wasn't anything to change her with. So, she left, hoping to never return.
Now 25 years after the fact, a man's skeleton has been found by the river's dam. Now everyone is saying that Warren was murdered and it must have been Jane. So, she's returned to to deal with her past while hoping that she won't be sent to prison.

Was this review helpful?

Real Bad Things is a flowing narrative that sucks you in and the best you can hope for is to survive the rapids until the stunning conclusion. At times the story is serene with characters taking a dip into the still waters of their memories, then it turns violent and deadly at the very next bend. Kelly J. Ford has crafted a slow churning, heart breaking thriller that will keep you on edge and guessing until the dam bursts and all the dirty and vicious secrets of the past come flooding out.

The Arkansas River, like those who live along its banks, is full of secrets, mystery, and murder. When a body is fished out of the dam after spending decades below the surface, Jane Mooney is forced to return home and face the admitted sins of her past. While the threat of jail time looms over her head, it is the dangers from those who are supposed to care and love you that will put her life at risk.

This is a proper, evenly paced crime story that spends a large portion of the pages exploring the emotional anguish, unhealed trauma, and disastrous relationships of the characters within. While the physical danger is real, this is more of a story for readers who are looking for a thrilling experience of untangling the web of lies and mental intrigue of this all too real situation. You will float through chapter after chapter, unable to keep yourself from flipping the next page, unconsciously propelled as if you’re rafting down a river you can’t escape.

Was this review helpful?

This is n extremely engrossing twisty mystery story about a woman who returns to her home town 25 years after confessing to a murder. A little predictable perhaps, and slow at times, but a very good story with some fantastic characters.

Was this review helpful?

Real Bad Things, by Kelly J. Ford, has a really deep and intriguing plot, but the author depends so much on descriptions that makes the story so slow and reading it is a bit painful. It felt like it needed some more working on until ready for publication.

Was this review helpful?

I thoroughly enjoyed Ford's COTTONMOUTHS, and so was very interested in this follow-up. As expected, it's another beautifully written piece of southern grit. Set in Maud Bottoms, Arkansas, this is the story of Jane Mooney, who years earlier confessed to the murder of her violent stepfather, Warren. With no body, though, the consensus is that Warren drowned and was washed away by the heady waters. Jane's confession is disregarded. So she moves away and starts a new life. Of course, years later, the body turns up and now Jane returns to face...something. Fantastic ride for the reader in finding out what that something is. Recommended.

Was this review helpful?

I did not really enjoy this book. I felt like it dragged on and on, continually just repeating the same information.

There was just so much disfunction - between the characters and within the characters. None of them seemed fully formed, their personalities were confusing. Sometimes their thoughts were very dark and disturbing, which seemed to contrast too much with how the character was otherwise portrayed. I didn't find any of the characters compelling enough to root for.

Also, I get that the police force in this book was described as "lazy" but it all just seemed unbelievable. There were mentions of men disappearing often, but yet everybody suspected right of the bat that the bones found were of one particular person? Seems odd. They never once suspected it could be anybody else's bones?

And the biggest question of all - why in the world did Jane even go back when she heard the news? None of the people she was trying to protect had even spoken/cared about her during all those years. What was the point of the character named Angie? She added nothing to the story at all.

Overall, I would not recommend this book.

Was this review helpful?

This is a really solid mystery / whodunit / mild thriller. Either I'm not great at knowing what these different categories mean, or this book shifts through a few genres. Which I guess it does. There is the central plot - Jane admitted to the murder of Warren 25 years earlier, was not charged, and left town. there are the sub-plots about friendships, earlier relationships, family. There is a "can you go home" theme, and a family violence plot line. Despite all this it's not a complicated book.
I didn't see either of the last two twists coming, but I rarely do! The satisfying things about this book was that after the reveal I could see exactly how we got there. Also, the characters had character and personality outside the scope of the murder. The was an interesting way to spend my reading time.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the e-arc in exchange for an honest review.

Was this review helpful?

No body, no crime.
That’s what the police in Maud Bottoms, Arkansas say after Jane Mooney confesses to murdering her violent stepfather.
When a body is found in the river after a flood two decades later, Jane returns to the Bottoms and there’s a flood of secrets ready to spill over.
Real Bad Things is an atmospheric read where the location becomes a character in the story. The characters themselves are well developed and their relationships add a level of urgency to a mystery that doesn’t give up all its secrets until the very last page!
Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. Real Bad Things will be released on September 1, 2022.

Was this review helpful?