The Contrary Blues introduces Owen Allison, a likable federal transportation inspector wo finds himself drawn into the small coal-ming town's scam after the previous inspector turns up dead on a slag heap. It seems Contrary bills the federal government for 20 buses in its transportation system, called the Contrary Comet. The number of buses the Contrary Comet actually operates is two.
Though a couple of the characters remain Southern stereotypes, Allison and several of the Contrarians he meets are individuals, sharply drawn. Something of a Boy Scout in his approach to life, Allison gets seduced by the crafty hayseeds like many a virgin, protesting all the way. But Billheimer succeeds at more than comedy. There's also poignancy in the fate of a West Virginia Vietnam vet who's determined to dig coal out of his own mountain, even as he drinks himself to sleep to quiet his nightmares.
Billheimer, who lives in Portola Valley, grew up in West Virginia. He speaks with fondness of Contrary that, thanks to the bus scam, glistens while the other mining towns succumb to "boarded up store fronts and streets covered with thin layers of coal dust." You have to love a town where the only hair salon calls itself, simply, BARBER SHOP. This is a funny book, and, in Billheimer's hands, West Virginia may become a favorite destination.
mmmmmmmmmm.....San Jose Mercury News