In two intersecting tales set in Louisiana, an elderly black veteran kills his attacker and faces a murder trial while his Cajun French best friend tries to discover the truth about the mother he never knew.
Gabriel Jordan, an “aging army captain” and “veteran of Korea and Vietnam,” is threatened by a young white man, Kenneth Bauer, at a Walmart in New Orleans, and as a result buys a cane for a future act of self-defense. Later, Kenneth hunts the vet down and threatens him with a knife, and Gabe beats him to death with that cane. He’s arrested for second-degree murder, a charge that could stick, especially because the knife is nowhere to be found. And Gabe, despite his advanced age, is known to be an “experienced, highly trained, battle-savvy army captain.” Gabe is less haunted by the prospect of prison time than he is by the enormity of what’s he done, a poignant moral nuance characteristic of this thoughtful drama: “Let me work it out in my mind….I’m an old man. I need to make it right in my head and with God.” Meanwhile, his best friend, Boudreau Clemont “Peck” Finch—who overcomes illiteracy and gets accepted into college in under a year’s time—decides he needs to track down his real mother, a woman who remains a mystery to him. But as his relationship with his girlfriend, Millie, becomes ever more serious, he worries that she won’t be able to accept his inauspicious beginnings. He travels to the Louisiana swamps that he fled when he was only 9 years old, the victim of morbidly dark abuse. Antil’s (One More Last Dance, 2017, etc.) touching sequel draws heavily from the plot established in the first novel, but remains an “entirely self-contained story.” The author palpably re-creates the electrifying energy of New Orleans, a combination of old-world merriment and lurking danger (“The velvet sax was an offer of promise and calm for the old man, jazz aficionado, dancer, and troubled soul”). Further, Peck is a memorable character—surprisingly deep and boyishly innocent simultaneously, he provides both comic levity and some of the book’s most moving moments.
An affecting novel that richly captures the inimitable spirit of Louisiana.