A decorated World War I veteran returns to Buffalo Mountain, Virginia, dissatisfied with the life he finds there after he’s seen Gay Paree and a whole lot more.
Jesse Sutherlin and his extended McAdoo family have spent generations scraping a living out of poor farming country, making moonshine and continuing their ongoing feud with the equally poor Lebrun clan, who live on the other side of the mountain. When a shellshocked veteran is killed while tending Big Tom McAdoo’s illegal still, Jesse’s hotheaded relatives overrule his reasonable objections and jump to the conclusion that the killer must have been a Lebrun. Big Tom gives Jesse, who’s seen too many men die in the killing fields of Europe, four days to find out the truth before a battle breaks out. Jesse, a brevet second lieutenant awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, has found himself a good job as foreman of the nearby lumber mill and quickly sees an opportunity to make some money by acquiring a well-timbered parcel of land whose ownership is in limbo. He’s also renewed his old friendship with mill secretary Serena Barker, who’s distantly related to the Lebruns. Jesse and his brother Abel arrive just in time to stop his cousin Anse and his drunken friends from lynching Serena’s brother. When Jesse is arrested for the murder of the one Lebrun who’s agreed to work with him to solve the original murder, a local lawyer fights to get him released and help him acquire the property he wants. Before Jesse can get on with his job and his pursuit of Serena, though, he still has to catch a killer.
Though this sort-of prequel to Ramsay’s Ike Schwartz series (The Vulture, 2015, etc.) isn’t much of a mystery, it’s memorable for its powerful portrayal of the difficult lives of proud but poorly educated people too set in their ways to change.