In this debut thriller, a series of murders leads a rogue general to take the U.S.’s racial strife into his own hands.
A bus from Blue Ash, Ohio, carries 12 black girls toward the Freedom Church camp in Alabama. It’s a steamy July evening, and as night falls, the vehicle gets lost. Before Tommy, the driver, can fix the situation, two armed white men assault the bus. One of them breaks the front windshield, boards the vehicle, and drags Elizabeth Courtier away screaming. The next day, the bus is found “crashed” by the roadside, with 11 girls, as well as Tommy and the chaperone, Miss Marcy, dead. Enter coroner Shawn Briggs of Harbor Springs, Alabama, who finds that the two black adults died from gunshot wounds and the girls from brutal cuts inconsistent with the crash. Yet Colby County Sheriff John Parrish insists that the deaths remain “accidental” to keep racial tensions from boiling over. This doesn’t sit well with Briggs or his precocious daughter, 15-year-old Olivia. As the coverup proceeds—and fails—various parties observe the situation. One is President Errol Clarkson and another is the self-styled Gen. Anthony Sedgewick, a charismatic—though egomaniacal—military leader who plans to shock America into remembering the nightmare of slavery. In this unsettling tale, Allen displays the plotting chops of someone with five thrillers under her belt. Tension jolts upward with each heinous act perpetrated by Parrish and, later, Sedgewick, who revels in torturing his crop of white slaves in a besieged Colby County. The heroic coroner and his daughter are joined by Willie Scarlett, an elderly black farmer who’s spent a lifetime absorbing the slurs and bullying of his miserable, insecure white neighbors. Allen’s confident narrative rides higher by including the careerist CBN reporter Samantha King and Mexican killer Manuel Ortiz, whom Sedgewick tests to see “just how black” he is. Though the sadism of Allen’s villains delivers pulpy thrills, the message that all must fight racism “as children, not of color, not of God, but of right” rings loud and true.
A masterly indictment of America’s failed racial politics that remembers to entertain.