A police chief investigates a murder and challenges racial prejudice in 1920s Missouri.
James Buckner, the exceedingly-honest new police chief of tiny Corinth, Mo., is a World War I veteran and a proponent of racial equality. Upon inheriting a department rife with corruption, he fires most of the officers. When an unidentified woman turns up dead near the railway station, Buckner has his first real case. Unfortunately, since he hasn’t hired any new officers, he has a serious staffing problem. He begins the investigation, but is hampered by the vainglorious county sheriff, who is anxious for public support in the upcoming election and tells Buckner to back off so his office can solve the case. Buckner, however, continues his investigation, and eventually learns that the victim is the mother of a local farmer, which sets in motion a chain of events far too predictable to be satisfying. The setting–rural Missouri in the ’20s–is well-rendered, but the mystery leaves much to be desired. As soon as Buckner identifies the body, the identity of the perpetrator is obvious, and readers will spend most of the novel waiting in vain for a twist to deepen the suspense. Meanwhile, a parallel narrative involving Buckner’s hiring of two black police officers–a major affront to the sensibilities of rural southerners at the time–never receives the attention it deserves, and the storyline never meaningfully intersects with the main narrative. There is promising material here–a potentially complicated mystery, racial tension, an interesting historical period in a flyover area of the country–and Gibbs is a capable writer, but he never fully engages any aspect of a novel that, in ways other than its modest length, feels thin.
Rich with potential and adequately written, but ultimately disappointing.