In 1952, war hero Sam Williams is elected sheriff of Jasper County, Florida. Resolving to clean up corruption, he targets the bootleggers, gamblers and prostitutes running rampant throughout the county. Although his campaign against corruption is successful, he also becomes a target. One night, Sam and his wife, Jean, are killed in a car accident, which was staged by two notorious bootleggers. Sam’s colleagues believe it’s murder, but they lack the evidence to prove it. Sam’s son Tom goes to live with his grandparents in Monrovia, Florida, where years later his life is rocked by another tragedy: His best friend, Jimmie Lee Johnson, a black teenager, is lynched for the murder of a white woman named Dana Padgett. Tom and Dana were having an affair, and he’s certain that Jimmie is innocent. Tom goes on to become a newspaper reporter in Tampa, and later returns to Monrovia, where he confronts these unresolved mysteries and uncovers additional secrets about people close to his family. Parker’s sprawling narrative includes several interconnected subplots focusing on racism, drug kingpins and illicit relationships, which move at a brisk pace. However, some of the secondary characters get lost in the narrative tangle. Tom, however, is a surprisingly strong, complex character. He’s earnest and idealistic, and sympathetic toward his friend Jimmie and his family; at the same time, he indulges in a relationship with the flirtatious Dana, even though she’s married. Unfortunately, the multitude of other characters and plots means that some are more developed than others. For example, early on, Parker introduces a mysterious girl named Panky Carter, who seduces young Tom and then quickly disappears from the novel; she reappears toward the end, but with little explanation.
A fast-paced tale that leads its protagonist down some unexpected and dangerous paths, but the twists and turns come at the expense of secondary character development.