Sealy's stunning debut novel is a potent mashup of noir, Southern fiction and period novel, set in South Carolina during Prohibition.
Outside a bar that serves as a front for the lucrative whiskey operation of town heavy Larthan Tull, two boys who work for him are shotgunned to death, and a man called Mary Jane barely escapes, pellets embedded in his shoulder. A young war veteran and sharecropper's son who got his name because his mother outfitted him in Mary Jane dresses when he was a child, the survivor is blamed for the killings. But Sheriff Furman Chambers is convinced Mary Jane is guilty of nothing more than chronic drunkenness. The sheriff has his work cut out for him in investigating Tull and his connections to the even more powerful Aunt Lou, who runs a regional bootlegging organization out of Charlotte. That's where Mary Jane heads, thinking he can cut his own deal with her. Meanwhile, Mary Jane’s nephew Quinn and Tull's daughter Evelyn are involved in a star-crossed teenage romance, and the sheriff has to cope with federal agents who have their own agenda. Told in pitch-perfect prose, with a rich command of time and place, Sealy’s novel builds slowly but powerfully to a violent climax with deepening themes pertaining to blood ties, religion, community and American enterprise: Even the most upstanding citizens sell corn to Tull to make ends meet.
Though it could use a better title, this is a near-flawless effort by a writer to watch.