DARK THIRTY by Terry Kay


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The aftermath of grotesque mass-murder in rural Georgia--with some well-written pieces that don't add up to a dramatic, convincing, or coherent novel. Jesse Wade, a model of country decency, arrives home one day to find nearly his entire family--wife, two sons, daughter, daughter-in-law, grandson--brutally, sadistically raped and murdered. Kay's solid narration then follows several (too many) aspects of the ensuing action, trauma, and exploitation. Jesse is numb, stoical, torn between rage and forgiveness, comforted by surviving daughter-in-law Anna--who falls under the sway of the same fanatical preacher who dominated Jesse's murdered wife. (Saintly, self-sacrificing Anna will suffer something of a breakdown, asking Jesse to impregnate her.) The local police quickly track down three young fugitive-suspects, killing one and arresting the other two: crazed Zack Vickers, son of an addled old local couple (to whom Jesse remains kindly); and slimy, cool Eddie Copeland, Zack's Vietnam-war buddy from Indiana--whose parents appear, declare their belief in his guilt, and quietly commit double-suicide. The intense prosecutor in the case will be William Fred Autry, motivated partly by ambition and partly by his long-ago love for Jesse's daughter Macy, one of the massacre victims. And the key reporter on the case is Toby Cahill, who becomes a confidant for scheming defendant Eddie. As the trial begins, then, Kay keeps moving the focus from character to character, failing to develop strong interest in any of them--and often simply reporting (rather than dramatizing) their feelings: ""Jesse's bitterness deepened and he became angry with himself because he could not show what he felt."" Likewise, the courtroom drama itself--despite graphically detailed crime-reconstruction--never quite clicks into gear: Eddie claims that the other two did the killing and raping while he looked on; Zack (too crazy to stand trial but allowed to be a witness), claims just the opposite--but goes quasi-bonkers while testifying; there's a hung jury and a mistrial. So, at the end, both stoic/forgiving Jesse and open-minded Toby will be pressured to join in some vigilante justice: ""None of them were terrorists. They were men exorcising a madness."" As foreshadowed in a sanctimonious ""author's note,"" then, Kay's novel winds up as an attack on our ""pitifully ineffective"" system of justice. Unfortunately, however, there are far too many blurred issues here for strong polemical fiction--and far too many loose-ended, confusing digressions for the sort of effective study-in-evil that Kay offered in After Eli (1981).

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 1984
Publisher: Poseidon/Pocket Books--dist. by Simon & Schuster