Often when I agree to review books for this blog, I do so because the story sounds engaging and different than anything I would normally read. Often, also, I expect that these books will not be great; perhaps I’m being cynical, but if the book was amazing, I think, wouldn’t someone at the Times be reviewing it. This time, however, my cynicism went unrewarded. Brand Randall’s book Blood Harvest is both a good read and an interesting peek into history.
Randall used a story from his own family as well as extensive historical research to set the foundation for this book. It tells the story of the lynching of one man, an Italian immigrant Nick DeCosta, whose young son “fools around with” the daughter of the rival moonshining family in their small town. This small incident triggers a series of events that seem, because of Randall’s smooth writing, to roll forward almost as inevitably as time itself. Here, Prohibition, the KKK (one of the plot elements that most intrigued me since I now live in a county that is rumored to once have been the home of the KKK in Maryland), and “corporate” competition interweave to produce a deadly story.
Randall chooses to use various first-person points of view to tell this story – the deputy sheriff, the young girl, even the deputy’s dog speaks. In this way, the book is reminiscent of Faulkner, although no one does dialect and switching first person point of view as well as Faulkner. These voices are each unique but intertwined with the dialect and education level of the place in which they live. In particular, I enjoyed the voice of Jackie Sue Palmer, the young girl who is caught in the bushes, literally, with the young DeCosta. She is smart and wiser than her years, and she wiggles her way out of the mess into the movies, just as she has always wanted. Randall could have made a fatal choice and cast all of these people as bumpkins, an all too common choice in mystery novels, but he sets out these people as insightful and witty, thereby making his novel more intriguing and engaging.
Here’s one of my favorite moments in the book; Jackie Sue is explaining why she doesn’t let boys touch her breast under the clothes:
One time me and Harold were playing hooky from Sunday School. Miss Hicks had been carrying on about the Gadarene swing and I’d had my fill of pig talk, so I left for the bathroom and didn’t come back. Harold followed a minute later. He had stolen a pack of his father’s Camels and we were smoking and talking by the bank of the Euphrates
He asked and asked and asked if he could just feel for himself how soft the skin was on my bosom. He was so earnest I let him slip his finger inside my middy blouse.
No sooner had his finger brushed my breast than his face turned read and he began to stutter. I think he was trying to tell me that he loved me, but he was stuck saying “I luh, luh, luh, luh.” Over and over, like a broken phonograph record. Finally he fell to his knees and began to froth at the mouth.
I hurried back inside and told Miss Hicks that Harold had been possessed by the devil. she rushed down to the riverbank followed by the entire Sunday School class and discovered Harold lying there, thrashing about. His eyes were rolled back in his had, and he’d web himself.
You can imagine my embarrassment.”
It’s just these witty moments that make the book both thoughtful and fun.
While at times the dialect does get cumbersome and borders on stereotypical, overall, Randall’s book sets up a complex mystery that not only illuminates the lives and situations of this particularly group of fictional people but also calls attention to the way that prejudices, judgmentalism, and financial competition can corrupt even the best among us.
If you’d like to read this book, please write a comment here and explain why the book interests you. I’ll then send my own, autographed copy to the person who gives the best explanation for why they’d like to read this book. The winner will be chosen on Friday, January 9th.