RED STICK ONE by Kenneth Kirkeby


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A good man redresses a vicious murder in Kirkeby’s (The Tournament, 2013) rousing sophomore novel.

After a few somewhat disjointed opening chapters (one set during the Vietnam War, another at a murder scene four years later), Kirkeby’s sweeping novel finds its footing and follows the life of Virgil Cleary, a biracial man who never knew his white mother and Native American father, who was from the Creek tribe in Florida. Though steeped in strife and violence, the novel’s heart is found in the good-natured, compassionate presence of its protagonist, Virgil. Kirkeby splits the story into three parts that trace Virgil’s youth in the early 1960s, his time in combat during Vietnam and in the present day as an adult. The story’s first depiction of Virgil, 1974, isduring his vicious interrogation of the aging uncle of Johnny Lutin, a notorious criminal responsible for the murder of Tom Jay Harding, Virgil’s childhood mentor and a local wildlife warden. As Virgil embarks on a vigilante mission to avenge Harding’s death, the novel suddenly veers off in flashback chapters delineating his personal history. Decades earlier, an 11-year-old Virgil was found wandering alone and exploring the forest by Harding, who returned him to the care of his grandmother but befriended him in the process and touchingly became the boy’s mentor and unofficial guardian, teaching him American history, the art of deer hunting, and even the nuances of his search and rescue missions.During his determined search for Lutin, Virgil temporarily takes on farm work for a lonely, widowed rancher with whom he shares intimate companionship. Eventually, through the generosity of traveling strangers who help him get closer to his target, he comes face to face with the villainous fugitive in a rousing denouement doused in Southern vernacular and menace. While the story is durable and entertaining, it suffers from creaky construction and a plethora of jolting timeline shifts. The numerous flashbacks have a tendency to hamper the narrative tension Kirkeby has developed so thoroughly in the present-day sections. Still, it’s a fun ride with a hopeful conclusion.

An original, suspenseful though mildly flawed drama.  

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher
Program: Kirkus Indie
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