By David Stout
Deploying vivid prose, David Stout’s award winning novel is in two parts, tells two related stories.
At the start we are in a shack village in Carolina, in the mid-1940s. It is springtime. Two white girls lie murdered in a field of flowers. A black lad (name of Linus) is suspected, a doctored statement serves as his ‘confession’, a summary execution follows. It’s a familiar tale, no doubt, and for me it had echoes of Billy, Albert French’s great novel – though actually Billy came out some years later.
By part two we are in 1988, almost half a century later, and James Willop, Linus’s nephew, comes to Carolina to revisit the case, hoping to prove his uncle’s innocence. He is a dogged but fallible investigator, and being of mixed race can pass for white, which is still a help in the South when it comes to getting people to open up. When those whom Willop has been talking to start dying, the dime drops: there’s a killer out there, trying to cover his tracks.
Besides being a very fine mystery, Stout’s novel is as well a provocative meditation on contemporary history. He reminds us that the primary source for the recent past lies in the memories of the living. Such memories, fragile as they are, may indeed be the only resource, if you want to challenge the written record.
The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.