In Farmer’s debut novel, an alcoholic reporter’s investigation of an old psychiatric hospital unearths many more complex and disturbing mysteries, blending American history, African mythology, mystery and Southern Gothic drama.
Angie McDowell is working on a story about Blytheville State Hospital, a mental institution in Georgia that, before the Civil War, had been a slave plantation. As she begins digging into the hospital’s past, she discovers some disturbing evidence that the plantation owner had been obsessed with evolution and trying to create a hybrid race through regulated breeding. She also begins experiencing visions of what seems to be the ghost of a giant slave woman, Sallie, who has six fingers on each hand and communicates with Angie in hopes that she can be the one to finally put right all the wrongs that had been perpetrated against blacks on this seemingly cursed property. She enlists the help of Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Blake Childs, a former lover of hers, and the two go down a veritable rabbit hole that involves the history of the Blythe family, their slaves, a mysterious undertaking called “Project Nephili” and an archeological dig in Israel. All the while, they cross paths with incredibly dangerous people and risk their lives to uncover the truth. Farmer has crafted an often taut, tense page-turner with an impressively large scope, not only expanding the story to international boundaries but dipping into flashbacks going all the way back to Africa in 1805 and stretching throughout the pre– and post–Civil War eras in the American South. Ultimately, the story incorporates elements biblical, mythological and even paranormal. Although the characters, particularly the shadowy villains, tend to remain more archetypal than fully fleshed out, this debut is a strong first effort marked by ambition and heart. In addition to its eeriness and suspense, it’s also incredibly humane, rendering even the more gonzo revelations palatable
A gripping mystery with historical and speculative-fiction flourishes that should captivate fans of all three genres.