After serving 40 years for confessing to the 1958 murder of Eva Potter, the girl who spurned him, Roy Freedman learns that her corpse has finally turned up. Immediately breaking out of North Carolina’s Central Prison, he hustles over to the Raleigh home of Pulitzer Prize–winning forensic historian Simon Shaw (Snipe Hunt, 2000 etc.) and demands at gunpoint that the professor reopen the case. He’d confessed, he says, only because the sheriff threatened him with lynching and local prejudices ran high against his Melungeon (mixed race) background. On the outs with his first serious girlfriend since his divorce, suspecting there are secrets Freedman isn’t sharing, and intrigued that the events took place in an area where most of his kin still live, Simon heads across the state to Boone, where his aunt Rae, uncle Mel, and cousin Luther fill him in on last generation’s gossip, a lying deputy sheriff insists that the would-be lyncher now has Alzheimer’s, and a Cherokee scholar explains that the original name of the murder site, Wennyma, means Place of Great Riches. When another moldering corpse turns up in a well-hidden mine on property owned by indigent mountaineers Big Momma and Rocky, Simon connects it to Eva’s murder, Cherokee legend, and those secrets Freedman has been so close-mouthed about.
If you can overlook Simon’s tedious romantic dithering, there’s much to admire, from insights into ginseng harvesting to explanations of Indian-trail trees, from multi-casserole southern family dinners to devious plotting.