Looking behind propriety’s lace-curtain gentility into the hardwoods of sin, Brookhouse (Loving Ryan, 2010, etc.) offers pure Southern noir.
It’s 1960, and Francis Finnegan Butler is approaching 30 when Belle, widow of Judge Timon Spier, dies. Called Judge since he "was too big for his britches because he had money and power and didn’t have to sully himself with practicing law," Judge raised Finn after the 14-year-old boy was abandoned by his mother, even sending him to a prestigious local school, the Academy. Now Finn teaches there, and he's voted to admit the school's first black student. That upsets Delia, the oldest Spier sister, but it doesn’t matter to Annabel, next youngest, nor Caroline. Brookhouse writes memorable characters: cleareyed Finn, of course, and Annabel, who seduced him at 15 and still lures him to bed; Henry Broken-ground, an Indian full of secrets; Erskine, jaded yet progressive newspaper editor; Danielle, his reporter, who loves Finn enough to wait out his fascination with Annabel; Buck, a hick Bull Connor, who inherited his daddy’s sheriff’s office; and Lester and Tracy, lawyers who unlock the mysteries of Schilling Club and a fur coat flaunted by a cross-dressing pastor. The plot follows the impending school integration, with Finn’s house burned and threats rumbling, but like mist in the pines, the mysteries binding Finn and the Spiers together hover over the tale. Delia bars Finn from Red Sticks, the family mansion, but Finn can't rest until he understands why his mother abandoned him and why the Judge gave him a home. A layered work, mottled and shifting like visions through antique glass, shadowed by ever lurking violence, as if written by a Southern-born Jim Harrison.
A novel to be savored more than once, written with the same languorous, rumbling passion of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward’s film The Long Hot Summer.