Against her will, a Mississippi preacher’s wife is drawn into a web of madness and murder.
Plagued by troubling visions after the mysterious death of her newborn daughter, Leona Sayres steels herself to murder her husband Averill—whom she believes strangled the infant, then buried the tiny body in the woods. Using rat poison, Leona slowly and skillfully does in the oblivious Averill, but she’s stricken with remorse when he suffers an agonizing death. There are others, meanwhile, who secretly rejoice that the fire-and-brimstone fundamentalist went to hell in a hurry, although there’s no shortage of mourners at his funeral. Averill Sayres was undeniably handsome and known for his sexually charged sermons. More than one woman in the congregation found a kind of sensual salvation in his arms—and would have been equally happy to tear out his cheatin’ heart. Now, a temporary sheriff, Blue Hudson, is brought in to investigate, and, later, shocked—but not surprised—to discover that there were a lot of people with reasons to kill Averill. He’s not at all sure that Leona did the deed, and her vulnerability softens his stalwart heart. Blue Hudson is a man as true as his first name (with a tragic history of his own, like everyone in this richly textured story), and he falls in love with Leona as he searches for the culprit. No one is above suspicion—except, perhaps, Leona’s friend Soames Churchill, the serene young widow of a wealthy and corrupt plantation owner. Soames, a consummate southern belle, is a porcelain-skinned beauty with impeccable taste in the clothes, antiques, and men she collects—although she’s not at all as well-bred and well-meaning as the gullible townsfolk believe. But who’s to tell? Enter Darthula, a poor, elderly black woman with “the sight,” who dresses in brilliantly-colored rags and lives in the haunted swamp—and knows what the respectable people in town most want to keep hidden. Will she reveal the truth at the dark heart of this elegantly constructed mystery? Trust Hill (Sacred Dust, 1996), a master of melodrama who deftly employs time shifts and a style at once spare and lurid, to unfold this gothic tale.
A gorgeous crazy quilt of a novel, filled with saints and sinners bent on mayhem, southern-style.