Scott Phillips returns to the saga of the Ogden family with Hop Alley, a novel that covers some of the time glossed over in his excellent “Mid-Western” Cottonwood. It’s the late 1870’s and Bill Ogden, living as “Bill Sadlaw” ever since a killing he did back in Cottonwood, is living in Denver and running a photo studio.
Aside from running around with his landlord’s laudanum-addicted mistress, Sadlaw’s living a fairly peaceful, scam-free life when we catch up with him. Hell, his landlord is actually cool with Sadlaw’s dalliances, seeing how he wants to move onto a younger model of side-piece and hopes Sadlaw will cover her rent in his stead.
But when Sadlaw’s idiot assistant’s father (and his old biddy housekeeper’s brother-in-law) is murdered it sets off a series of events that could lead to Sadlaw having put another man in the ground at worst and settle somewhere else with yet another false identity at best.
The story is related in the first person by Sadlaw with a droll sense of humor with an emphasis on Sadlaw’s balancing of his humors, especially the white ones. There are wonderful turns of phrase on every page and scuzzy old-timey assholes around every corner, each one more hilariously rendered than the last by Phillips.
A slim volume, Hop Alley reads fast but feels expansive and hearty, with Phillips late in the novel even getting down to some of the closely guarded pain within the normally prickly Sadlaw. It’s a hilarious tale that never reads like a “comic novel,” a piece of historical fiction that never feels distant- it’s a fucking Scott Phillips novel and that’s all I should have to say.