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Second-novelist Sloan (Worry Beads, 1991) introduces us to a Mississippi teenager and her family in the years after the murder of her mother.

Biloxi, Mississippi, isn’t the easiest place in the world to keep a secret, and it’s hardly synonymous with crimes of passion, either. So how come seventh-grader Jubilee Starling can’t figure out who killed her mother Bernice and Bernice’s secret lover, Levi Litwak, in April of 1964? Bernice was stabbed to death sitting in her red Chevy pickup in the driveway to their garage, while Levi died a few hours later in a car crash. A local TV weatherman, Levi was widely reviled in Biloxi as a Yankee Jew (and, some claimed, a political agitator), and the local Klan had gone so far as to put him on their death list. But a few days after the deaths, a local newspaper receives a suicide letter that Levi posted before his accident, in which he confesses to murdering Bernice because she wouldn’t leave her husband to marry him. Case closed? Not quite. Jubilee is suspicious, and she proceeds to drive around in her mom’s old car (“the death truck”) asking questions. From what she hears, Levi doesn’t sound at all like the killing sort, but she draws a blank when she considers the alternatives. Jubilee’s father would have had the motive, but he’s even less bloodthirsty than Levi was. There’s always the Klan, of course, but why would they have bothered themselves over Bernice? Years go by and Jubilee moves on to Berkeley, then college, and goes through the summer of love before returning to Biloxi and picking up what looks like an insuperable mystery. What was it Eliot said about coming home and knowing the place for the first time? Sometimes it works that way.

A nice portrait of loss and discovery, carefully drawn and intelligently narrated but without much to distinguish itself.

Pub Date: July 1st, 2004
ISBN: 1-57962-104-X
Page count: 220pp
Publisher: Permanent Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2004