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The Moonshine Messiah

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Member Reviews

I received this book for free for an honest review from netgalley.

A great mystery full of twists and turns. Memorable characters as well.

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Great Southern story about dysfunctional family, corruption, politics, crime, and a whole lot of drama. Great characters, great story, and enough secrets to fill an abandoned mine with! I loved this promising new series, (I hope), and I look forward to more! Good book!

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Great little story about a West Virginia sheriff, her criminal mama, her crazy brother, and life in a dirt poor community.

The characters are memorable, the dialogue rings true, and the plot has more twists and turns then you can shake a stick at; in fact, they keep coming up until the very end.

Not my usual genre, but very enjoyable. You can’t go wrong with adding this book to your reading queue.

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Just a great book, great structure and character development. This is an author to keep on the radar as the book was a damn fun read!

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I really enjoyed this book and all of the characters in it as well. The sheriff is the daughter of the local moonshine moma along with other things. Her brother is now causing problems with not only the local radio station but also with arming people in his compound. Mary Beth Cain has so much going on that she even has her old boyfriend from high school who is now an assistant U.S. Attorney showing up and wanting her to make a deal with them to get her brother out. Everything sounds so simple but really it is not. There are many other deals that have been had that she is not aware of but when she finds out she is a force to be reckoned with. That is as she is trying to get her brother to still give up when the government shows up in full force and she is looking at Waco all over again but in West Virginia. That is just a little of what is going on. A really good book from start to finish and very much worth the read.

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In “The Moonshine Messiah” by Russell W. Johnson, the novel chronicles the lives of those in Jasper Creek, Virginia, particularly the life of Jasper County’s Sheriff, Mary Beth Cain. Cain is a no-nonsense sheriff known for bending the rules to get things done, and she constantly finds her plate overflowing with challenges.

Although Cain’s jurisdiction is Jasper County, her problems are set to intensify with the anticipated annexation of the neighboring McCray County due to its economic collapse.

Complicating matters further, not only is Cain under serious federal scrutiny, facing a possible criminal indictment, but two of her biggest challenges come from her own family: her mother and brother. Cain’s mother, known as “Mountain Mammie,” controls criminal operations in adjacent McCray County. Because of corruption and unofficial pacts, including one with her daughter, Mammie encounters little law enforcement interference as long as her criminal activities are confined to McCray County. However, with the impending annexation of McCray County, Mountain Mammie sees opportunities for expansion, leading her to believe that previous agreements can now be renegotiated, irrespective of promises made to her daughter.

As if that’s not enough for Sheriff Cain to contend with, her brother Sawyer, once perceived merely as a local folk hero, has evolved into a fervent anti-government activist, heading a diverse and rapidly expanding cult-like following. Now recognized as “The Moonshine Messiah,” Sawyer has rallied this potentially violent group to defend the rural way of life by any means necessary. With his accumulation of weapons and the establishment of a fortified compound within an old mining site, Sawyer has caught the attention of federal law enforcement. This interest includes the intervention of a federal prosecutor and a figure from Sheriff Cain’s past.

Sheriff Cain faces the daunting task of mitigating violence, even if it means arresting her own family members.

Johnson’s novel weaves together a diverse cast, each with captivating backgrounds, creating a narrative relevant to contemporary society that is entirely believable. Fans of writers such as Ace Atkins and Brian Panowich, along with other authors in the rural noir genre, will appreciate “The Moonshine Messiah.”

Netgalley provided a copy of “The Moonshine Messiah” in exchange for an honest review, and the book is available for purchase.

This review was originally published at

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I received this eARC from and am providing an unbiased review.

This story was a bit of a hidden gem that I found (my thought anyways) in the Netgalley gallery. After reading it, I had to look up the author and see if there were any other works he has completed. Unfortunately, the sources I used showed only this one story, and what a story it was! The writing style reminds me of Craig Johnson (Walt Longmire series) telling a tale about a sheriff in the backwoods of West Virginia. Not a big thing, unless you throw in family ties to a 'mountain mafia', and a few rumors of the sheriff using those connections.

Either way, the story is very well told, and I felt like I was 'in the action' as I read it. I also found it quite hard to put down the one night I had to do so. Character backgrounds were good, and the world building was on-spot for what I imagine those small towns and area would be for WV. There were a couple misdirects in the story that caught me, and making the ending come out better than what I thought would happen. Definitely would read more from this author, and almost would like this to become a series if there is somewhere for the stories to go.

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Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this eARC!

What a rollicking bunch of redneck fun! The main character, who is the town's Sheriff, has relatives with illegal activities, her brother is not above blowing up the part of the town that doesn't support his conservative agenda, and her Mom's hands are also not clean of crime. Meanwhile, being not only the town Sheriff, but a single mother to boot carries it's own very unique set of challenges (no spoilers here, read the book to discover the secrets in store, I will just let you know there are a few juicy secrets!

Had a lot of fun reading this book, and I will come back to revisit this author's amazing creations!

Until next time, how well does one really KNOW his or her "close" family members?

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The Moonshine Messiah is an immensely enjoyable and fast-paced read. I read some Goodreads reviews prior to requesting it from NetGalley and was assuming that I wouldn't like the main character, Mary Beth, much (think Mullins from The Heat but with extra questionable policing tactics and a lot more hillbilly) but she ended up being a whole bunch of fun. Actually, all of the characters were great – as a teenager I spent six long years in rural Southeastern Ohio, a stone's throw from the West Virginia border (we grocery shopped over the state line), and the author's portrayal of Appalachian hillbillies was spot on. Several of the characters in this book could have been pulled straight from my high school graduating class.

I guess you could say that this book was kind of The Heat meets Deliverance? (Yes, I know Deliverance takes place in Georgia and no one makes anyone else “squeal like a pig” in this book, but whatever.) Mary Beth is rough around the edges and doesn't work exactly within the confines of the law, but she's a kick-ass sheriff and ultimately does what's right … at least as far as the major illegal transgressions go. I really enjoyed her sass and humor and and her interactions with her felonious family.

Overall, I thought this book was fantastic and it far exceeded my expectations. It's a wild, twisty ride and I loved every minute of it.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Shotgun Honey for providing me with a copy of this book to review!

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The Moonshine Messiah.
By Russell W. Johnson


Mystery/ Crime.

🔎Small town
🔎Federal investigation
🔎Conspiracy Theories.

This was a fast-paced murder mystery packed with a federal investigation, hostages and a sheriff with a lot of family issues as they all seem to be criminals.

If you're into mysteries with a lot of crime going on, then definitely recommend this one.

Thanks, Netgalley for a digital copy of this book.

#netgalley #themoonshinemessiah

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This book is probably about as real of a fiction book as you can imagine detailing the rural, rough life and terrain of the coal fields. Seems well-researched and offers a taste of southern noir.

I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher and voluntarily provided an honest review.

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The Moonshine Messiah brought me back to the world of the Timothy Olyphant series, Justified, which I love. What a great start to a promising series!

We are in Jasper County, West Virginia, Mary-Beth Cain is the sheriff, following in the footsteps of her husband. Now her family is not what we would consider "good citizens". Her mother, Mountain Mamie, deals drugs in a neighboring county and her brother, Sawyer, is a cult leader/conspiracy nut known as THE MOONSHINE MESSIAH. He lives in a militia-like compound, think Waco, and goes on the radio blasting the Federal government. The arrival of a biker gang leads to trouble. A respected local is murdered and the biker gang moves into Sawyer's compound. Adding to all this is an ex-flame, Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Connelly, who wants Mary-Beth to help the Fed's arrest her brother.

The novel moves along at a brisk pace. Just when I thought I had things figured out, the author threw in a twist. I enjoyed getting to know the characters and their world. I highly recommend!

Thank you to NetGalley for an ARC. The review is my own.

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This book is a fun read.
Really enjoyed the West Virginia setting.
The people are rich and complex. The connections between the characters are varied and how the author links the current issues to the past is done very well.

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A book with a title like that's got promise, right?

The further south one goes in West Virginia, the poorer and less coal one finds. In fact, McCray county is so poor, the neighboring Jasper county is having to annex its neighbor. The Sheriff, Mary Beth (Thompson) Cain is an oddity is a state full of oddities. A female Sheriff in a patriarchal state known for being intolerant of anything not white and male. She’s known her chief deputy, Izzy (all five foot nothing of him) since high school. Mary Beth got her job when her husband, the ‘real’ sheriff was gunned down.

She’s far from some damsel in the wrong job. She has a take-no-prisoners reputation for putting down most any lawbreaker, successfully driving the meth cookers out of the county. She must be related to Raylan Givens (Justified).

Her biggest problems are closer to home. Her brother Sawyer Thompson is pure redneck mountain trash. Has a radio talk show/podcast that he does from the Old Wingo Mine property where he shouts racist hate and revolution to an ever-growing group of followers who call him the Moonshine Messiah. A real piece of work.

For the most part, Sawyer is just an annoyance to Mary Beth. The real thorn in her backside is her very own mother. The matriarch of most all the criminal goings on in the county. Rumor has it that 200 votes for Mary Beth’s run for sheriff came from local cemeteries courtesy of Mamie Thompson. That’s gotten the state attorney general sniffing around with an indictment of Mary Beth just waiting to be served.

The death of a local football legend has the townships on edge. Then the McCray County Courthouse is blown up complete with some deaths and a bunch of injuries. That brings the FBI to town all set to drag Sawyer and his followers to jail, if they surrender, or start filling body bags with the drooling press comparing the Old Wingo Mine to Waco. And everybody is looking to Mary Beth to intervene with Sawyer and bring the standoff to a peaceful end.

Peaceful end? Yeah, right. This is Jasper County, WV. Patriot Central. The arsenal they are sitting on own rivals what the feds have brought. They have the high ground and know the territory.The first exchange of gunfire favors the locals, not the feds.

Now while the standoff continues, the real issue is why the hell started all this and who has the most to gain?

Regular readers of the blog should know that perhaps my favorite corner of the mystery genre is loosely termed redneck noir, country noir, swamp noir, and maybe a half dozen other labels. Some of the noteworthy practitioners reviewed on this blog include JD Rhoades, Brian Panowich, SA Cosby, Joe R. Lansdale, Chris Offutt, among others. The Moonshine Messiah is Johnson’s first novel and it packs a wallop. One of two more like this will get Johnson’s name added to that list.

Consider this an indie book. Published by Shotgun Honey Books (huh, what?), that has quite the list of authors in its stables including Dana King, Chris Offutt, and Erik Pruitt (all reviewed here on MRB). Judging by the author photos on the website, I’m betting a company-wide party would be a hoot. Lots of full beards, hats, piercings, and shit-eating grins.

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Mary Beth Cain, sheriff of a backwoods county in West Virginia, is facing corruption charges for her questionable police tactics when her ex-boyfriend, Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Connelly, arrives on the scene with a deal that will drop all charges as long as Mary Beth agrees to arrest her brother. Thanks to his anti-government radio broadcasts, Sawyer has become the leader of a militia group who is gathering at a defunct coal mine. Before Mary Beth can act, Sawyer's followers blow up the local courthouse. With federal agents swarming the coal mine, it's up to Mary Beth to prevent a Waco-style massacre from happening in West Virginia.

THE MOONSHINE MESSIAH is a fast-paced novel full of corruption and plot twists. Personally, I didn't find any of the main characters to be likeable or even sympathetic. Sheriff Mary Beth Cain is the best of the worst. Her police tactics may be questionable—and her loyalty to her criminally inclined family members leads to poor decisions—but she genuinely cares about her county and it's law-abiding citizens. I definitely recommend reading THE MOONSHINE MESSIAH.

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I really enjoyed this book. Mary Beth is such a cool character and I related to her in so many ways it was scary. Cover to cover it kept me hooked. The twists and turns, bad guys and good guys. It's a great book and I will be looking up the author to read more of their work. I would definitely recommend this book to some who loves crime fiction.

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An utterly unique concept that is unforgettable and addictive.

Thank you to the author and the publisher for this ARC through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

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Complex Almost Anti-Hero Leads Layered World Into Promising New Series. This is one of those books that touches on a lot of things - the opioid epidemic, the crash of coal in the push for so-called "green" energy, land speculation, family, the complexities of being on the right side of the "law" when your family isn't, high school romance and the fallout thereof, traditional Southern living vs the newer get-rich-quick ethos... and even a strong dash of the militia movement and the mistakes on both sides of Ruby Ridge and Waco and the long shadows both of those events cast in certain communities. In the process, it creates a truly layered and compelling world that while just as complex as our own, still allows for a high degree of escapism (for most). And yet, it is also a brutal tale of survival and betrayal, of losing yourself and finding yourself over and over and over again. Of trying to become something you want to be, even as your community and even family are doing their damndest to drag you in other directions. Overall truly a remarkable tale for what it is, and one I am very much looking forward to coming back into this world. Very much recommended.

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A butt-kicking West Virginian female sheriff from an outlaw family on a fast-moving adventure! This is a wild ride, full of action and adventure. Crime, 'crooked' DOJ employees, white supremacists, a strip-joint owning narcissistic mother, a little romance, and a fast moving story all build to a satisfying conclusion. The author has developed a fresh new character that has not been done before. I sincerely hope that this is the first in a series. I really want to see where he can take the story. This is a fast read, I had a very hard time putting it down. And thoroughly enjoyable. Bravo!

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Set in West-by God-Virginia Sheriff Mary Beth Cain is a true badass. You have to be tough with a narcissistic, drug dealing, strip club owning mother. And a sociopathic, conspiracy theorist turned cult leader brother. She finds herself in the middle of a federal investigation and given a choice. Save herself and put her bother on the chopping block. Or face federal charges and prison.

I thoroughly enjoyed this read! I was hooked from the start and couldn’t put it down.

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