An OUTSTANDING read, unequivocally!
Dear Mr. Woods,
Your detective novels are adult male comic books: lively, entertaining and occasionally even esoteric as a reader plays super sleuth trying to discover who is the “butler” of this novel’s crime.
I have only read four of your works, three of which I label as forgettable, books perfectly suited for a sandy Caribbean beach.
“Chiefs” on the other hand, is a literary gem, a near masterpiece in my opinion. The development of the story over nearly 50 years is masterful, displaying creative expertise comparable to the very best of crime writers. A reader familiar with your other works might miss your renowned protagonists, Stone Barrington and Holly Barker, but Chiefs is not a novel of that ilk. It is a story of racism and bigotry, of class and social stratification, of family bonds and professional responsibility. This novel must have set the bar for your future ones, set so high with this masterful work, that I seriously doubt you could write a better book.
“Chiefs” has magnetism, on the one hand holding the reader’s attention with an inescapable grasp, on the other, the chiefs trilogy allows readers suitable mental pauses avoiding any onset of boredom. A simply ploy that works well.
Each of your lead characters, Will Henry Lee, Sonny Butts, or Tucker Watts, lives by clear principles and values. The reader inevitably cheers for two of the characters, jeers at the other. Will Henry is untrained and totally inexperienced in police work but his life as a caring family man spills over to his professional work where he soon earns the respect and trust of his community. Crimes committed near his rural Georgian community become the priness’ pea under his mental mattress, obstacles to any peace of mind for this policeman. His demise, such a surpise, such a sad ending to so strong of an opening segment.
Next up, Sonny Butts, increasingly more abhorrent with each well written page. We dislike him as a law enforcement officer, but you set the hook with Sonny’s discovery, uncovered somewhat by the first chief. Sonny is a polarization of opposites: his inner core, an authentic police officer; his outer shell, an unscrupulous racist and amoral womanizer. Sonny almost redeems himself to every reader as he follows up his suspicions. Then he too is abruptly removed from the story.
Critics may suggest that the plot twists and turns are too simple, too obvious, too predictable. They miss your novel’s intent. It isn’t a simple mystery novel, a piece for readers to play the guessing game of “Who done it?” This book is a socio-cultural portrait of the southern United States a half century ago, a region of overt and blatant racism, prevalent and deeply embedded everywhere in the ‘Old South.” The novel’s initial setting is the early seventies United States where bigotry and prejudice ruled the day. American society has barely inched the socio-democratic bar a notch toward real equality today, nearly fifty years later. Every night, the television news confirms we have scarcely eked past where we were then. American society is still colour blind, as are many other countries politically, economically and socially dominated by whites. Your book artistically captures a verbal portrait of that anachronistic and unacceptable society and era.
Many readers undoubtedly celebrate the hiring of Tucker Watts, the last of your law enforcing trio. The cell scene with Tucker and the drunken Pieback was captivating. Some critics may be justified in reviewing that final segment as requiring super mental agility and very strong powers of recall to keep the story straight and the plot clear. This is like counting angels on the head of a pin, quibbling, Mr. Woods. The count matters not; the existence of the angels matters. Your novel captures that essence, it has the soul, it is a whole chorus of angels.
Eight years in the writing, incredible that dedication. Other writers show similar commitment to their art, Donna Tartt, “The Secret History,” a prime example, ten years in the works. However sir, I do not compare you to her. I would compare you to another well-known American writer, Harper Lee (To Kill A Mockingbird). She too wrote about the hatred and bigotry in the American south. Her work has been recognized as the first literary masterpiece in the portrayal of American racism. Your work should be viewed as the second.
I recognize that I am talking about a book that was written more than thirty years ago, but your characters, your story and your portrait of American social solidification is timeless.