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Holy City is an amazing piece of work. A Southern novel that examines the pathos and ethos of small-town life and the weight of both grief and hatred. Love it.” —S.A. Cosby, author of All the Sinners Bleed

No one innocent. No one Free. Nothing sacred.

Holy City is the captivating debut from Henry Wise about a deputy sheriff who must work alongside an unpredictable private detective after he finds himself on the outs from his sheriff's department over his unwillingness to look the other way when an innocent man is arrested for murder.




After a decade of exile precipitated by the tragic death of his mother, Will Seems returns home from Richmond to rural Southside Virginia, taking a job as deputy sheriff in a landscape given way to crime and defeat. Impoverished and abandoned, this remote land of tobacco plantations, razed forests, and boarded-up homes seems stuck in the past in a state that is trying to forget its complex history and move on.

Will’s efforts to go about his life are wrecked when a mysterious, brutal homicide claims the life of an old friend, Tom Janders, forcing Will to face the true impetus for his return: not to honor his mother’s memory, but to pay a debt to a Black friend who, in an act of selfless courage years ago, protected Will and suffered permanent disfigurement for it.

Meanwhile, a man Will knows to be innocent is arrested for Tom’s murder, and despite Will’s pleas, his boss seems all too content to wrap up the case and move on. Will must weigh his personal guilt against his public duty when the local Black community hires Bennico Watts, an unpredictable private detective from Richmond, to help him find the real killer. It would seem an ideal pairing—she has experience, along with plenty of sand, and Will is privy to the details of the case—but it doesn’t take long for either to realize they much prefer to operate alone.

Bennico and Will clash as they each defend their untraditional ways on a wild ride that wends deep into the Snakefoot, an underworld wilderness that for hundreds of years has functioned as a hideout for outcasts—the forgotten and neglected and abused—leaving us enmeshed in the tangled history of a region and its people that leaves no one innocent, no one free, nothing sacred.



“A dense, brilliantly rendered novel by a new master of Southern gothic." Kirkus Review, Starred Review

"A heinous crime tests a freshly minted deputy sheriff's allegiances in Wise's stylish debut . . . Bold characters and splendid prose further enhance the proceedings. Wise knocks it out of the park his first time up to bat." Publishers Weekly 

Holy City is an amazing piece of work. A Southern novel that examines the pathos and ethos of small-town life and the weight of both grief and hatred. Love it.” —S.A. Cosby, author of All the Sinners Bleed

"Henry Wise’s striking debut Holy City is a haunting story of crime and the myriad ways that one can be punished. Set deep in the rural expanse of southern Virginia, it’s both a thriller and a dark fairy tale, filled with danger and menace, loss and longed-for redemption." —Megan Abbott, New York Times bestselling author of The Turnout

Holy City is a hell of an impressive debut by a great new voice in crime fiction. Henry Wise balances a bold literary voice with authentic storytelling in the kind of gritty Southern thriller that’s right down my alley. From page one, you’ll be absolutely hooked into this evocative world.” —Ace Atkins, author of The Heathens

"A devastating first novel. . . Henry Wise arrives with a powerful new voice in the rarified air of truly literary crime fiction. Deeply rooted in the complex natural and cultural landscape of southern Virginia, Holy City is an engaging, original, and sometimes explosive take on what it can mean to go home again. Wise gives us a suspenseful crime story rich with lyrical flourishes and populated by tough, courageous, complicated people struggling with the power and burden of lifelong guilt, of unpayable debts. . . ultimately Holy City is a searching exploration of the fraught space between revenge and redemption where no choices are easy or even right. Not only wise, but brave as well, Holy City is a compelling and affecting read, not to be missed."—James A. McLaughlin, Edgar Award winning author of Bearskin


"Holy City is a debut to be relished. Henry Wise writes like he's been around forever, masterfully weaving together a tapestry of flattened forests and sprawling tobacco plantations, along with intimate portraits of the people who populate rural Southern Virginia. Rarely does a first-time novelist come along with such a bold, singular voice. I've got a feeling Henry's here to stay."—Eli Cranor, author of Don't Know Tough

 “Henry Wise is a talented storyteller who brings a poet’s ear to the southern landscape he knows so well. The dialogue crackles with authenticity and the characters are drawn with great compassion.” —Chris Offutt, author of The Killing Hills

"Holy City burns hot and fast, and it's impossible to put down." —William Boyle, author of Shoot the Moonlight Out

"This is a book I began reading with high expectations due to the astounding blurbs it received from some of my favorite authors. In no way did it disappoint. This book is a rare achievement for a debut, and it does something that few can: combines literary quality writing with narrative momentum. As much as I was savoring the beauty of the sentences, the haunting intricacies of the Southern landscape, I was plowing through the pages. The characters, too, were a work of art. The "good" were far from perfect, and the "bad" showed glimmers of humanity. To me, this novel is William Gay meets Michael Farris Smith. I have little doubt it will make some awards list, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it win some. Holy City is "holy shit" good. Excited to see what Wise cooks up next." —Scott Blackburn, author of It Dies With You

"Stunning. If there was one word to describe this fantastic debut, stunning. Will Seems, I sure hope there is more of him. Please read this important novel." —David Odeen, Goodreads Review

"A dense, brilliantly rendered novel by a new master of Southern gothic."

Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review



Author photo by Lisa Damico

Henry Wise is a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute and the University of Mississippi MFA program. A writer across multiple genres, his poetry has been published in Shenandoah, Radar Poetry, Clackamas, Nixes Mate Review, and elsewhere. His nonfiction and photography have appeared in Southern Cultures. Holy City is his first novel.



Contact Henry:

Publicist: John Mark Boling,

Literary Agent: John Talbot, Talbot Fortune Agency

Subsidiary Rights: Linda Biagi, 

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