In Blair’s debut novel, African-American Freddie Edwards’ life story unfolds across history as a complex tapestry, leading up to his arrest for the killing of a 75-year-old man.
This superbly crafted, intricately detailed story is by turns joyful, sorrowful, frightening and uplifting. Blair draws readers in by establishing a mystery, as Annabelle Mann, the staid, white widow of a respected judge, is called to testify as a character witness for Edwards, a black man with a criminal record who’s accused of murder. The story then exquisitely details the childhoods of Mann, Edwards and his sister, Ruby, in 1930s Tampa, Florida. The post-Depression economy has forced Mann’s family to live on the edge of a black neighborhood; her father is a philandering salesman, largely absent from her life, while her mother is an open, generous woman. In graceful prose, Blair takes time to develop the children’s friendship: Ruby and Annabelle hit it off immediately, but Freddie distrusts the new white girl. Annabelle recognizes his innate intelligence, however, and lures him into friendship by lending him books. Freddie loves stories about knights, hence his self-proclaimed nickname, “the Black Knight,” a moniker he lives up to by always rescuing the mischievous girls. As Blair further develops the characters, as well as the time and place they live in, she toys with the overarching mystery. Chapters vacillate between past and present, and the narrative gradually drops hints about a strange, rich, neighborhood white man. Overall, this fine book offers well-drawn, human characters and logically flowing action, all written in a striking style: “Two silver-haired women walked together on an otherwise empty beach, its pristine white sands stretching endlessly around them, its peaceful quiet broken only by the sounds of waves lapping at the shore and gulls calling overhead.”
A must-read story of relationships, prejudice and bravery, and a vivid paean for justice.