A mother’s apparently decorous passing is only the opening act in a South Carolina family’s dance with violent death.
Georgie Smallwood has never liked her father, and who can blame her? Fielding Smallwood was a drill sergeant who retired from the Marines after he failed to prevent a sadistic colleague from ordering a training exercise that left seven enlisted men dead. Since moving his family to the little town of Beaufort, he’s made no secret of his affair with welcoming widow Carla Blanchard. As his wife Lena lies dying, ex-Sgt. Smallwood, bullheaded as ever, blames single mom Georgie for her mother’s decline, takes Lena off life-support, and vetoes an autopsy that would determine the cause of death. But it’s not until the miraculous return the same day of her son Hank, who ran away two years ago, that Georgie realizes just how badly her life has been blighted by her father—who, having demanded that Hank stay away when he phoned home shortly after going AWOL, now responds to Georgie’s accusation that he’s broken up her family by punching her out. When she joins her older brother Ashby, a gay, dyslexic shrimper, and her younger sister Claire, a newly divorced mother of three, in drowning their sorrows at an off-limits lighthouse and a downtown bar, Claire announces that she’s ready to toss Fielding Smallwood down the lighthouse stairs. Naturally, the hated father promptly turns up dead at the bottom of those stairs; local lawmen of every stripe, from fatherly police chief Johnny Selby to Fielding’s conniving buddy, ADA Eugene Wilbanks, get a lot more interested in the family’s dirty linen; and things rapidly go from bad to much, much worse.
The story hurtles along as rapidly as any of Hightower’s police procedurals or thrillers (The Debt Collector, 2000, etc.) but finds room for a world of family pain and southern warmth.