When a son of the tobacco fields returns home from Duke, the normal, acceptable kinds of trouble in his North Carolina hometown erupt in the kinds of trouble that make headlines.
The work that used to be done largely by black hands has now fallen to migrant Mexicans. Though some southern stalwarts complain about the invasion, others, like Michael Olive's father, depend on the workers to pick their crop. Mike, back for a summer in Cottesville spearheading a group of activist students, is convinced that Clayton Olive, whatever his disagreements with his son, is one of the good guys. But he's a lot more suspicious of the Dickerson brothers—especially Blue Dickerson, brutal uncle of Mike's childhood friend/rival Harvey. Familiar tensions seethe as Mike goes up against his father, his old friend, and the locals. And the situation's made even more tense, if no less predictable, by Mike's romance with Hermelinda Salmeron, dewy daughter of one of the pickers, and by the reluctance of a civil-rights lawyer summoned from D.C. to mount a case without harder evidence than Mike and his friends have come up with. Martin excels in staging conflicts that modulate hostility and respect among the combatants. And it's a good thing, because his first novel consists almost entirely of such scenes, alternating with conscientious background material that slots the principals into their proper demographics, and framed by the tableau of Harvey Dickerson—animated, jocular, and thoroughly drunk—getting blown to bits by a bomb in the Olives' mailbox when he goes after it with a car and a baseball bat.
"Sometimes," says Hermelinda's father, “I think there isn't any why, only luck.” Maybe so, but that's not much wisdom to take away from the continuing injustices Martin so painstakingly chronicles.