THE KESTREL WATERS by Randy Thornhorn


A Tale of Love and Devil
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A supernatural Southern novel that drawls through a story of bluegrass mythology and race relations.

Thornhorn’s (The Kudzu Man, 2013, etc.) dialect-heavy novel follows the Brothers Brass, psalm singers turned bluegrass pickers, from their youth through their demon-haunted coming-of-age. Their mother, Georgiana, against the wishes of their father, Malakoff, sends them to Shelfy Oak Bible College, where Kestrel is saved from drowning by Bettilia Whissler. From their first meeting, Bettilia hides behind a veil of mystery, specifically concealing the circumstances of a family member’s death. When Kestrel injures himself falling from a tree, Bettilia comes back with him to Angelsprey, the Brass family homestead. It’s here that the first hints of the supernatural enter the narrative: Bettilia reveals that she killed her father, but then intimates that he continues to look for her, despite the railway spike she dropped on his head. That’s why, after she performs at the fair with the Brothers Brass, she decides to lay low. She senses evil afoot, and Malakoff seems to reckon it too. It isn’t until Kestrel and Bettilia’s wedding day that the true danger appears—a devil in hobnailed boots that will change Kestrel’s and Bettilia’s life forever. The novel burns slow, and throughout its first half, conflict appears mainly in the form of family struggles, or from dark figures lurking at the periphery. Despite the Brothers’ fairly liberal stance on race relations for Southerners in the early 1960s, the novel does tread a controversial path: Many of its black characters have an exotic, otherworldly presence, and only these characters (and white Bettilia) seem to have access to the supernatural realm. The author undoubtedly means to do justice to local mythologies and to the attitudes of the segregated South; perhaps this is echoed in the Brothers’ own “slang-powered rebellion, an openly sly subversion of their mother’s polite society.” Throughout, Thornhorn’s mellifluous, lyrical sentences will keep the reader occupied: “At the end of that long and meandering mud rut was an ungated gap in a kudzu-choked fence, and beyond that was an open field where sunlight was very unkind to the house that lay there sinking into the ground.”

A thriller that’s as Georgian as peach pie, with a darkness that creeps like kudzu.

Pub Date: March 20th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0615967462
Page count: 570pp
Publisher: Rosasharn Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
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