First-timer Yancey’s southern gothic, rich with murder, lust, tragic woman, and violent summer storms, strikes all the right chords.
The summer of 1960 is eventful for seven-year-old Shiny Parker: He sees the Pastor nearly burned alive, gets married to crazy Sharon-Rose (she insists on vows after Shiny sees her naked), and witnesses a murder. After Pastor Ned Jefferies’ house burns down, his wife Mavis and their daughter Sharon-Rose stay with the Parkers while Pastor Ned is hospitalized. Shiny’s older brother Bertram warns the boy to stay away from that peculiar Sharon-Rose; in truth, the whole house-burning incident seems mighty suspicious. Soon the two discover that clues to the worst murder case ever in Homeland, Florida, are under their very roof. Twenty years ago, dandy Walter Hughes was accused of raping Miss Mavis, and Halley Martin, strong, handsome and poor as dirt, killed Hughes to defend the love and honor of Mavis. Though they’d never formally met, Halley, working in her daddy’s orchard, secretly watched and drew Mavis every day, and from the watching grew a fierce love. Much of the story is from Halley’s perspective as he spends the next twenty years—hard ones, filled with violent suffering and told in vivid detail—in prison for Walter’s murder. With the help of the young prison chaplain, Halley learns how to write, and soon Mavis is flooded with declarations of his love, sentiments she secretly returns. The chaplain, none other than Ned Jefferies, contacts Mavis, and the fates once again turn against Halley Martin. Years pass, Halley continues writing Mavis, secretly builds up a fortune, and buys out her daddy’s plantation. On the same day Pastor Ned is released from the hospital, looking like a skinless turtle and now insane, Halley is released from prison—seeking Mavis, or revenge, or maybe both.
With shades of Monte-Cristo and Wuthering Heights: a beguiling, old-fashioned tale of desperate love and cruelty.