By Doug Hare EBS Staff

Kim Zupan teaches carpentry at the University of Montana’s Missoula College. It’s hard to imagine he’s more skilled as a woodworker than as a wordsmith.

Zupan’s novel “The Ploughmen” is a meticulously crafted debut set in rugged, northwest Montana where the author grew up. And the sprawling, stark, often desolate landscape he describes might very well be considered one of the main characters.

The plot turns on the interaction between a sheriff’s deputy working graveyard shifts at the county jail and an insomniac murderer standing trial, smoking cigarettes through the night, and the uneasy friendship that develops between them.

Understandably, Zupan dabbles with themes violent, dark, and bleak. From this grisly backdrop, Zupan tackles head-on themes of crime and punishment, confinement and freedom, guilt and innocence, loneliness and friendship, death and life. As different as their situations find them, both the young deputy and the old serial killer are two men in search of redemption in their own unique ways.

Not many writers could succeed in transforming a murderer into a sympathetic character, or unearth the demons of a hard-working, honest man with such deftness. Zupan pulls it off in an arresting, if terrifying, fashion.

Zupan’s sentences are Faulknerian, and his prose is baroque, ornate, and at times risky. “The Ploughmen” is not an easy read, but definitely a rewarding one.

Doug Hare is the Distribution Coordinator for Outlaw Partners. He studied philosophy and American literature at Princeton and Harvard universities.