The good, the bad, and the ugly precariously coexist in Richardson’s debut, a nostalgic ode to small-town life in early-20th-century America.
Among the good: David Cooper and his wife, Sara, a lively husband-and-wife team with firm convictions about right and wrong; Jack and Cora Harris, a young black couple whom the Coopers count as friends but who nevertheless feel the sting of segregation from all other quarters. The ugly: Sidney Guthrie, who may or may not be a war veteran and who owns the local hardware store. The bad: Sid Guthrie’s band of no-goodniks willing to aid and abet the bully’s nastiness. These colorful characters populate the story set in the central Florida settlement of Walako—“a bastardization of the Seminole Tawalako, ‘big town,’…a stopover on the route between Saint Augustine and Fort Brooke—later named Tampa.” The story unfolds against the backdrop of larger world events such as World War I and the 1918 flu pandemic, although its primary focus remains squarely on Walako’s residents. Central to the novel is a quest for justice and retribution in response to three unsolved murders. Since readers know the identity of the killer, the mechanics of this hunt are only mildly entertaining but serve as a capable plot device to move the story forward, despite its occasional stalls and lurches. While the setting is well-rendered, the characters don’t evolve much with the plotlines. Richardson hints at complexities—David Cooper’s conflicted emotions after he returns from the war is one example—but the novel takes few risks. As a result, heartwarming and enchanting as the story might be, the rose-tinted glasses get drab after a while. Nevertheless, the debut shows plenty of promise and may appeal to readers looking to remember a slower way of life.
A delicious if sometimes cloying slice of Americana.