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Set in 1967 Montgomery, Alabama, this short, well-written novel offers several intriguing subplots--the desperate corruption of a dying governor, the wavering ethics of a young newspaper editor, the racial and domestic tensions surrounding a black soldier's burial--but can't quite bring these separate strands together in a dramatic or profound way. The fictional governor here is Jesse Stuart, 50, a redneck sort, recently elected, who has been secretly dying for months, while the public wonders about the governor's odd inactivity and lingering case of ""the flu."" Now, near death, up-from-poverty Jesse determines to leave his family some financial security: the plan, carried out with help from a blindly loyal aide, involves murdering the Gov's nasty old doctor (a ruthless blackmailer) and arranging for the sale of pardons to well-heeled prison inmates. Meanwhile, a black soldier killed in Vietnam is about to be buried in an all-white Montgomery cemetery, thanks to the quiet leadership of James Boone, a black Episopal priest. But some local rednecks are planning violent interference with the interment--while Boone's own household simmers with unrest: impotence, adultery, crises of faith. And meanwhile, too, there's sporadic focus on Jack Harris, the new editor of the Courant, a hometown boy who made good but got burned in the Washington, D.C., news/politics cauldron. Jack (who narrates some of the 56 mini-chapters here) is an old friend of Gov. Stuart--and becomes an unwitting accomplice in Stuart's scheme (by delaying the front-page report on the governor's true condition). The editor must also decide whether to run an inflammatory (but true) story related to the black soldier's burial, whether to stand up to the newspaper's tough owner. And Harris' other moral dilemma involves his discovery of a gothic secret--one that links the dying governor to the controversial goings-on at the all-white cemetery. Intriguing, atmospheric fragments of story--but too diffuse and anticlimactic for effective melodrama, too shallow and contrived for serious historical fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 20th, 1987
Publisher: Little, Brown