Saturday, November 10, 2007

HWT Christmas Gift Guide

Chickenbone Church Reunion
by Wendy Daughdrill & Anita Havens

Elderly men are being murdered in rural Calhoun County, Mississippi. Not just murdered but brutally murdered by close range shotgun blasts to the face. Sheriff's deputies Scott Griffin and Angela Woodard only have one real lead to pursue, a 68-year-old photograph, well that and Scott's 85-year-old grandmother whose memories of a murder committed under color of law in depression ravaged prohibition era Mississippi could hold the key to catching the killer.

I have to say that I really liked this book. It is well written with believable characters, realistic dialogue and a story which never bogs down. The mother/daughter writing team describe the South and southerners as only natives can and base their novel on real events (but change the names, as they explain, to protect the guilty).

The book tells two stories one taking place in 1999 and the other in 1931. In 1931 a group of men, most really only boys, fight the crushing poverty of the Great Depression by producing moonshine whiskey, which they sell to a fellow in Chicago named Mr. Capone. One night the loading of the jugs of whiskey onto the northbound train goes horribly wrong as Revenue agents catch one of the moonshiners alone and murder him when he will not reveal the names of his fellows or the location of their still. The crime is witnessed by his younger brother and his brother's girlfriend.

This murder sets a chain of events going which change lives and culminate nearly 70 years in the future when people find that the past cannot always be left in the past.

This book bills itself as a "hilarious murder mystery" and there is humor aplenty. For example we find out how far some women will go to get even with a cheating boyfriend (boxer shorts + poison ivy = well you can imagine) and we get to see what happens when firecrackers are dropped into the cesspit under an outhouse (hint, methane explodes). Yet to me the best part of the story was the story.

During the Great Depression people actually starved to death. Tens of thousands of men were driven to leave their homes and families and walk the roads and rails looking for whatever work they could find. Some chose armed robbery and their names became household words like Bonny and Clyde and Ma Barker. Others found that making corn whiskey would put food on the table and keep the bank from foreclosing on the farm.

This book reminds us that hard times force hard choices and that bad laws are often enforced by bad men. It would make a fine gift for anyone who likes to read or has a particular interest in the Prohibition era.