A present-day racist incident launches a search for answers about a 1907 lynching in the new novel by Morris (Cologne No. 10 for Men, 2007).
When racist graffiti defiles a highway near Ron Watkins’ new home in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, he remembers his mother’s warnings. Maryland was a slave state, she taught him, and the local white population has never forgotten its former violent dominance of blacks. Watkins has moved his family back to the East Coast from California in order to further his career and he has felt safe, if slightly conflicted, in his largely black neighborhood. But even as his neighbors—including one new white friend—chew over the vagaries of race and social issues, the past rears its head. Watkins’ great-grandfather was murdered by a lynch mob, he learns, and his family was forced to sell its farm on the very land where Watkins’ prosperous suburb now stands. Now Watkins wants to learn the truth and clear his great-grandfather’s name. However, the past lives for others, too: the local neo-Nazi group responsible for the hateful graffiti has plans for action—aimed directly at the Watkins and their new friends. Morris links the past and present stories through historical documents, half-remembered family lore and one very important letter, building up to parallel climaxes of danger and resolution. He has cast a wide range of characters with great awareness, from the more radical and angry blacks to those who observe no race divide in their personal matters, and from historically sensitive white people to their subtly prejudiced counterparts, focusing heavily on such details as skin and hair. The villains, however, lack the same fullness of character. While it is difficult to imagine much scope or intelligence among the racist characters, their one-dimensional portrayals—all hateful stupidity—weakens this otherwise sensitive study of race and history in the American South.
A multilayered thriller that tackles issues of race and history in America, but comes up short of a fully nuanced examination.