Vessels of Wrath

A Big Ray Elmore Novel

Fiction - Mystery - Sleuth
414 Pages
Reviewed on 06/28/2023
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Pikasho Deka for Readers' Favorite

Vessels of Wrath is a gripping sleuth mystery set in the fictional town of Split Tree, Arkansas. It's the early 1960s. Police Chief Raymond "Big Ray" Elmore has enough doubts to convince himself that Ring Johnson committed suicide by blowing off his head with a gun. Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, Ray, alongside his deputy Ricky Forrest, follows the clues that point to something deeper beneath the surface. Meanwhile, a dangerous man named Gilbert Gervais has recently broken out of Tucker Prison and is suspected to be coming after the head of the town council, Carl Trimble. Carl is an abrasive man who maneuvers a DOJ investigation against Ray, leading to his temporary suspension. Carrying the sins of his past himself, will Ray be able to catch the killer before more people get hurt?

With a character-driven narrative and a plot as unpredictable as it is absorbing, Thomas Holland delivers a timeless sleuth mystery yarn for the ages. Holland maintains an even pace with the narrative, keeping your eyes glued to the pages with a plot full of well-placed curveballs to keep you guessing. But it is the characters who steal the show. Holland's characters are grounded, and when placed in a realistic setting like the town of Split Tree, the stakes feel real, and you will find it hard to put the book down even for a moment. Ray is someone with gravitas, and his relationships with the inhabitants of Split Tree create conflict and drama that is delicious to consume. Overall, Vessels of Wrath is a stellar installment from the Big Ray Elmore series.

K.C. Finn

Vessels of Wrath: A Big Ray Elmore Novel is a work of fiction in the detective, mystery, and suspense subgenres. It is best suited to the general adult reading audience and was penned by author Thomas Holland. In this character-led mystery novel with plenty of small-town drama, we meet our key protagonist and police chief Big Ray when he’s got plenty of demons in his past to keep him awake at night. A suspicious suicide leads Ray to believe there’s plenty more to the story, and in doing so, he must confront the issues that still haunt him if he’s going to save Split Tree and its inhabitants from a deadly killer.

Author Thomas Holland has crafted a fantastic crime novel with plenty of mystery, clue-following, sharp deductions, and intricate character drama. For me, the standout feature of the novel is the portrayal of Big Ray Elmore, a police chief seeking a simpler way of living in small-town Arkansas but who clearly hasn’t dealt with a lot of damage in his career and personal life to date. The plot is well-penned to stand up as a great mystery in its own right, but the theming, content, and atmosphere of the suicide-to-murder investigation marry perfectly with Big Ray’s past trauma to craft a provocative and engaging emotional storyline. I also felt that the dialogue was a triumph, moving the plot forward seamlessly without the need for huge chunks of exposition in the prose. Overall, I would certainly recommend Vessels of Wrath for fans of emotive, interesting, and highly original murder mystery plots and those who enjoy deep character drama with a damaged hero you can really root for.

Keith Mbuya

Raymond Elmore − ex-navy and now the chief of police in Split Tree, Locust County, Arkansas - knew a murder when he saw one, staring at the lifeless body of Ring Johnson, a local farmer in Split Tree town. Sitting on the floor of his tool shed, his back and blown-out head against a bloody wall, a shotgun on his lap, Johnson was no more. Johnson’s wife and son were unreachable. Before Elmore could investigate, he received news that Gilbert Gervais, a prisoner on death row, had broken out of prison. Chances were high that Gervais was headed for Split Tree to settle a score. With a murderer on the loose and headed his way and a tough case to solve, what will Big Ray do? Find out in Thomas D. Holland’s Vessels of Wrath: A Big Ray Elmore Novel.

If you are looking for a murder mystery based on a compelling tale of small-town gossip, domestic drama, a love-struck pimp, a harlot, love affairs, hawk-eyed sleuths, and vendettas, Thomas D. Holland’s Vessels of Wrath is just what you need. Thomas has a knack for capturing the mood and setting vividly. It felt as if I was back in the mid-twentieth century, lost in unraveling the tangled web of mystery together with Ray Elmore. There is drama, engrossing conversations rich in humorous banter, edge-of-the-seat suspense, and an intriguing plot. All these had me captivated from cover to cover. I loved the way Thomas contrasts the complex qualities of the well-crafted role players. This, coupled with the striking portrayal of their emotions, gave them authenticity. Vessels of Wrath is an epic third installment in the series.

Alma Boucher

Vessels of Wrath: A Big Ray Elmore Novel is an extraordinary mystery novel by Thomas Holland. Clyde Martin was in Little Rock for a convention with his army buddies when he hired Gilbert’s girlfriend for the night. The girlfriend entertained lonely men for a living. Clyde and his buddies refused to pay and beat her badly. Gilbert would not have it and decided to teach Clyde a lesson. Elsewhere, in Split Tree, Arkansas, Ben Cooper told Chief Ray Elmore that Ring Johnson had killed himself. Ring was Ben’s friend, and Ben had asked Ray to go with him to the farm. Looking at the victim and the surroundings, Big Ray had a gut feeling that something was wrong. All the evidence showed that Ring was murdered, and it is up to Big Ray to figure out who the killer was.

Vessels of Wrath is fast-paced and jam-packed with action. Thomas Holland described the southern culture and the small-town community in such a way that I was transported to Split Tree. I was swept into a world of killing, pride, and regret. The plot had me intrigued from the start. It was not just a murder mystery but also encapsulated the atmosphere, drama, and politics of a small town. The characters were well-developed and authentic. They were easy to visualize, and I liked them. Big Ray’s personality is robust and held my attention throughout the story. The story was exceptionally well written and was a page-turner. I recommend this to mystery lovers. It was interesting and exciting to be a part of Big Ray's investigation.

Anne-Marie Reynolds

Ring Johnson is dead. Suicide, they said. But was it? Police Chief Ray Elmore isn’t convinced. Where is Johnson’s family? Elmore believes a killer is on the loose and needs to hunt him down and stop him before anyone else loses their life. The evil heading his way is about to force Elmore to face his demons and confront a past he hoped would stay hidden. Gilbert Gervais is heading in Elmore’s direction. Recently sprung from prison by his girlfriend, Gervais is a nasty piece of work, and his target is Carl Trimble, Elmore’s rival in love. Can Elmore find the killer? Can he stop Gervais from avenging Trimble for something that happened in the past? Vessels of Wrath: A Big Ray Elmore Novel by Thomas Holland has the answers.

Vessels of Wrath by Thomas Holland is one of those “Wow, what did I just read?” books. It is fascinating and compelling reading, set in the 1960s, and it’s clear Thomas Holland has researched the era and region. The dialog is spot-on perfect, written so that you can't help but be drawn into the story, and it keeps you reading all the way through. There are two stories here, intertwining perfectly and entertaining in their own right, if a little harrowing at times. The characters are excellent. This is the third book in the series, but I learned enough about them to understand them. Like any series, it’s best to read them all to truly understand the main characters. Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable story with plenty of action will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Viga Boland

As the camera moves into a close-up on your big screen TV, you’ll notice the signs on the road leading into Split Tree that read “The Little Town Where Nothing Big Ever Happens.” You’ll immediately question that because the sign is shot through with bullet holes. I’m paraphrasing what Thomas Holland writes in the acknowledgments of his latest novel, Vessels of Wrath. Besides a lot of shooting in Split Tree, one of the “bigs” is Big Ray Elmore. He’s the police chief who thinks everything through while everyone around him is full of conjecture about how Ring Johnston shot himself with a rifle. Big Ray can see that the details at the crime scene just don’t add up to suicide. Ray questions if this a murder, then who’s the killer? Johnson’s wife and child are missing. Has something happened to them too? Elmore has his work cut out for him, especially with those like the wealthy, womanizing town bully Carl Trimble, who is intent on making Ray’s work harder. So is Carl the killer? Or is it the malevolent Gilbert Gervais, whom we meet in the eye-popping opening chapter, who has now come to Split Tree with his equally nasty girlfriend, Lidia?

What a colorful assortment of characters Thomas Holland brings together in not-so-quiet Split Tree, each so different and believable. Holland is marvelous at making these characters come alive through their mannerisms and dialogue. That’s why it’s so easy to picture their interaction on a screen, and once that plot gets rolling, so much for nothing big ever happening in this violent little town. But you knew that when you saw the bullet-ridden sign, right? If your taste in sleuth protagonists is for an introspective, calm, rural Columbo-type, you’ll love Big Ray Elmore. Ray’s character stays with you long after the action has died down. Beneath that no-nonsense surface, silent waters run deep, and through the Ray Elmore series, Thomas Holland explores the many depths of humanity. Wonderful reading!