Deer Season

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Pub Date 01 Sep 2021 | Archive Date 01 Sep 2021

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Winner of the 2022 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel

It’s the opening weekend of deer season in Gunthrum, Nebraska, in 1985, and Alma Costagan’s intellectually disabled farmhand, Hal Bullard, has gone hunting with some of the locals, leaving her in a huff. That same weekend, a teenage girl goes missing, and Hal returns with a flimsy story about the blood in his truck and a dent near the headlight. When the situation escalates from that of a missing girl to something more sinister, Alma and her husband are forced to confront what Hal might be capable of, as rumors fly and townspeople see Hal’s violent past in a new light.

A drama about the complicated relationships connecting the residents of a small-town farming community, Deer Season explores troubling questions about how far people will go to safeguard the ones they love and what it means to be a family.

Winner of the 2022 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel

It’s the opening weekend of deer season in Gunthrum, Nebraska, in 1985, and Alma Costagan’s intellectually disabled farmhand, Hal...

Advance Praise

“With incisive prose and finely wrought tension, Deer Season is an absorbing tale of a small town that is both severed and knitted together by tragedy. This book does not just return us to a forgotten place and time; it recreates it for us. This is fiction at its finest.”—Melissa Fraterrigo, author of Glory Days

“Flanagan subverts the traditional whodunit by pointing the reader not just to multiple suspects but, more importantly and humanely, to the many victims of a single act of violence. She also does it with grace and humor, and without fetishizing or parodying her Nebraskan characters. . . . That it’s compelling, fun, and highly readable is simply the cherry on top.”—Xhenet Aliu, author of Domesticated Wild Things, and Other Stories

“Flanagan takes clear-eyed aim at the foibles and strengths of the human heart, ultimately plumbing its tenderness through characters whose lives in Middle America are deftly rendered through a riveting plot. . . . Nuanced with unsentimental empathy, Deer Season delivers a literary mystery that will leave readers thinking about these characters and their story long after turning the last page.”—Jess Montgomery, author of the Kinship series of historical mysteries

“With incisive prose and finely wrought tension, Deer Season is an absorbing tale of a small town that is both severed and knitted together by tragedy. This book does not just return us to a...

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ISBN 9781496226815
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Featured Reviews

I was raised on a KS farm so there were so many things mentioned in this book that brought back memories….one finger farmer waves, Dorothy Lynch dressing and how people know all about you in small towns, good and bad. So that part of the story felt so familiar. Great job of including so many details from that and the 80s time period.

I also love Dateline and the story felt like it could be a Dateline episode with each chapter told by different characters.

A really entertaining read. Loved it! Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me the opportunity to read this interesting book.

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Deer Season was a compelling, suspenseful read. I was pulled in immediately to the characters and the richness of smalltown life on the Plains. As someone with a rural Nebraska background, I was impressed with how Flanagan resisted stereotypes. This is a fabulous debut novel--there were surprises that felt true, and I became invested in all of the characters who were fleshed out so fully. HIGHLY recommend!

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Loved the book! Really great character development, especially Milo. The story felt real and I connected with both Milo and Alma.

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Deer Season by Erin Flanagan is a very highly recommended character driven novel wrapped around a mystery. This is a beautifully written novel!

In Gunthrum, Nebraska, the 1985 deer season is opening and Alma and Clyle Costagan's intellectually disabled farmhand, Hal Bullard, 28 years-old, has been invited to join two other local men on their weekend hunt. Alma, a pessimist by nature, is concerned for him considering who invited him along. Instead of staying away the whole weekend, Hal returns Saturday night and is seen at the OK bar. When he shows up at the Costagan's Sunday he claims he shot his first deer and came home early. He also has a dent in his front fender, which he may have gotten hitting his garage again on Saturday night, and blood in the truck bed from the deer.

On the same weekend 12 year-old Milo Ahern is being confirmed in church that Sunday. When Milo goes to wake up his 16 year-old sister, Peggy, she's not in her room and later, when she can't be tracked down anywhere, she is reported missing. Gossip begins to swirl around Milo's early return and the condition of his truck. Residents of the small town quickly spread rumors and gossip that accused Hal of violence against Peggy, in spite of the lack of proof. It does not help matters that Hal has a crush on Peggy. Milo is much more observant and thoughtful than most of the adults around him.

Deer Season is an exquisitely written literary novel. While the plot follows the reaction of the citizens of the town during the search for Peggy, the focus of the novel is an honest and compassionate character study full of attentive, intelligent observations. The characters are fully realized, complex individuals with faults, shortcomings and emotional damages, but also with honest knowledge and awareness of the small community around them and their faults. There are heartbreaking revelations and thoughts shared by both Milo and Alma and they will have your total empathy.

Alma and Milo are the primary narrators in the novel and the plot unfolds through their points-of-view and their observations of the events surrounding Peggy's disappearance. While the mystery of Peggy's disappearance gives shape and purpose to the plot, the rich characterizations give the novel a depth and sensitivity that propels it to a standout mystery novel. Underlying themes include the contemplation of what it means to be a family and a question of how far would you go to protect those you love.

With the complex characters and the satisfying and surprising conclusion, Flanagan has written a stunning, extraordinary debut novel. Deer Season would be a wonderful choice for book clubs that like to discuss literary fiction.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the University of Nebraska Press for TLC Book Tours. (8/30/21)
The review will be published on Edelweiss, Barnes & Noble, Google Books, and Amazon.

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Erin Flanagan’s Deer Season is a slow burn murder mystery that doesn’t let go. By the end of the book, Flanagan had me second guessing every character for the murder. Deer Season has impeccably crafted characters and Flanagan has brought to life their little nook of the world. My favorite was Alma, a woman who left a life and job in Chicago to move with her husband back to his rural farm town. Crusty and grumpy with a heart of gold. Alma is so spot on, I feel as if I know her. Deer Season is one of my favorite reads of 2021--I'm looking forward to reading more from Erin Flanagan!

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Deer Season quietly crept up on me and I found myself engaged from beginning to end in this literary mystery set in a small Nebraska community in the 1980s. Character driven with characters, who while not always likable, feel real and will stay with me. Clyle and Alma Costagan are childless, and have become family for Hal, their intellectually challenged farmhand and they look out for him, even as he is approaching 30. They aren't happy when he goes on a deer hunting trip with a couple of locals and when he comes back early saying he shot a deer, and with a dented truck with bloodstains, they think the hardest thing to do will be to smooth over the issues with his hunting permit and help him clean up. Unfortunately a teenage girl, Peggy Ahern, is missing and soon the community is suspicious of Hal, and Alma and Clyle do their best to defend him while having their own thoughts and worries about what Hal is capable of.

The story is told by partially by Alma, a hard woman to like and considered by most to be an outsider since Clyle brought her back from the city when his mother died. The other chapters are told by Milo Ahern, Peggy's 12-year-old brother, wise beyond his years, and my favorite character in the book. I enjoyed the 1985 Nebraska setting and the cast of small town characters that make up Gunthrum. The mystery is solid and slow and steady tension is built to the end, but it is the relationships and the the meaning of family and loyalty that are the standouts. One of my favorites for the year so far, Erin Flanagan is a talent, and I'm going to look up her short story collections to read more from her.

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This is a great story (contains some romance, mystery & suspense) that takes place in NE, & anyone who lives in the area (in SD/IA/NE) will recognize so much, will find so much to relate to......will be able to understand the locale, the mindset, the culture, the rural vs urban, the career choices. Flanagan really portrays this whole rural culture to such was fun to read & recognize so much, even though it deals with very serious issues.
This book is a part of a series called 'Flyover Fiction' in which stories are set on the Great Plains, in the center of the country.......& the plot lines follow something about life in that area. At the end of the book, it names other titles in this series.......& I'll definitely be looking some of these up. I'd definitely recommend this to anyone, whether in this heartland/tri state area.....or anywhere else!
I received an e-copy of this book from University of Nebraska Press via NetGalley for review purposes & these opinions are my own.

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Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Once I started Deer Season I didn't want to stop. When I had to take a break, I wanted to keep reading until I knew what happened. It's definitely a book of suspense wrapped around one question: what happened to the missing girl? This is a book about a disappearance, but it's not a crime story as I'm used to, and I think that worked for the story.

This isn't a crime procedural following some battle-hardened detective linking subtle clues together at the last minute to figure out whodunnit. The main characters are those normal, everyday people whose lives wrap around the missing girl's: her brother's, a local woman, a local man. They're not actively engaged in an investigation. It's like they're trying to survive it instead. It was more interesting to me reading those viewpoints than from the detective's. It seemed more focused on the missing girl as a person and as part of a community than crime stories usually get.

The views offered on the local community were compelling. There was good and bad and a complicated mixture just like in real life. No character was a cardboard caricature. The main three characters especially felt very real. The bits of past that you get made them make sense, even as I saw the change from who they had been to who they were in the story's present.

This was a great viewpoint into how quickly we suspect those we see as different. As soon as the girl goes missing, everyone in town blames the guy with the intellectual disability. But, this guy also has committed violence in the past, whatever the reason. Their blame isn't wholly unfounded. Even the MC, who loves this man like a son, has a horrible inkling of suspicion, even though she never directly says or thinks it.

The story progressed quickly enough to not get bogged down, but not so quickly as to feel like it was supposed to be a thriller. My only complaint was in how quickly the ending wrapped up. The crime was solved in what felt like a paragraph (even though there are clues throughout the story), and the reader is only told what happened. There's no real action or first hand account of this part.

I'd recommend Deer Season to those who like reading about small town dynamics, the complexity of human nature, and to book clubs. There're a lot of great discussion points in Deer Season.

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In Deer Season Erin Flanagan writes characters that are witty, smart, and complicated. The characters are shaped by the place they live as much as they shape its farmland. It is a compelling whodunit, but it is more than that as you begin to feel deeply for the people and secrets in the town. The people in the town that are quick to judge are balanced with those striving toward more - toward something most of the characters don't know and haven't experienced beyond their own musings of what life outside a small town might be. Erin Flanagan picks a perfect time and place to set the novel - a farm town on the brink of massive technological advancements but not there yet. A couple years earlier or later the novel couldn't take place as it does. In a bigger city, it wouldn't fit. However, Erin perfectly allows the novel and the characters to spring forth from time and place.

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Deer Season is part mystery, part slice of life in small town America. The mystery unfolds as it is told through two perspectives, Alma and Milo. Of the two, I enjoyed being in Milo's head a lot more than Alma's. I thought the story was beautifully written. The author did a great job with character development. However, it was a bit slow for my taste. There was a lot of mundane, day to day stuff that bogged down the story for me. I did like the ending. I think this book would be perfect for people who like slow burn, small town mysteries. I would recommend it.

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Enjoyed this one a lot. Well written. Atmospheric setting. Intriguing plot. Slow moving, yet suspenseful. Interesting and well-developed characters. I maybe wanted a little more out of the ending, but overall this was a solid two thumbs up read!

**ARC Via NetGalley**

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Small town rural America. A young girl goes missing. All eyes turn to “retarded” Hal, a farmhand, who seems to be hiding something about the very weekend the girl disappears. As the community start to ask questions, his carers also begin to wonder – could he be capable of something like this, this boy they have taken in and nurtured? A gripping and compelling novel about guilt and innocence, responsibility and loyalty, a tense psychological drama that kept me guessing to the end. Well-paced with an expertly handled gradual reveal of the back stories, convincing and nuanced characterisation and authentic dialogue, all narrated with insight and compassion, I thoroughly enjoyed the novel and recommend it highly as a really enjoyable read.

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