"Late one night at the end of a scorching summer, a phone call rouses Sheriff Furman Chambers out of bed. Two men have been shot dead on Highway 9 in front of the Hillside Inn, a one-time boardinghouse that is now just a front for Larthan Tull's liquor business. When Sheriff Chambers arrives to investigate, witnesses say a man named Mary Jane Hopewell walked into the tavern, dragged two of Tull's runners into the street, and laid them out with a shotgun. Sheriff Chambers's investigation leads him into the Bell village, where Mary Jane's family lives a quiet, hardscrabble life of working in the cotton mill. While the weary sheriff digs into the mystery and confronts the county's underground liquor operation, the whiskey baron himself is looking for vengeance. Mary Jane has gotten in the way of his business, and you don't do that to Larthan Tull and get away with it. Hailed as a "grand new talent" (Bret Lott) and a "significant new voice in Southern fiction" (Ron Rash), Jon Sealy has written a haunting debut novel. With its unforgettable characters and evocative setting, The Whiskey Baron is a gripping drama about family ties and bad choices, about the folly of power and the limitations of the law" -- - (Baker & Taylor)
Library Journal Reviews
Prohibition-era South Carolina is the setting of Sealy's debut, an assured work of literary suspense. In the mill town of Castle, work is beginning to dry up, but Larthan Tull keeps the alcohol in steady supply, running the bootleg whiskey trade with an iron fist. Nobody questions the arrangement—even weary Sheriff Furman Chambers, eager for a clean retirement, looks the other way—until two of Tull's men are killed in what appears to be a power grab by Mary Jane Hopewell, an outcast with designs of cutting into Tull's business. But the townsfolk—and Sheriff Chambers—aren't so sure: Mary Jane has always walked the line but never crossed over to violence. Tull seeks mortal revenge while Mary Jane goes on the lam but with one complication: her nephew has fallen in love with the whiskey baron's daughter. VERDICT "Violence is taking over everything," one character laments, and that feeling of a more simple and moral time being lost to the vagaries of man and industry pervades the whole novel. Though the book's climax is light on surprises, Sealy's finely drawn characters and evocative sense of place and time make this a memorable read, on par with the best of Daniel Woodrell and Ron Rash.—Michael Pucci, South Orange P.L., NJ
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