Remembering a Classic Novel

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Pennington’s Hoax is available at Amazon or directly from W&B Publishers

My latest book featuring investigative journalist Maggie Lyon centers around her work as she determines the true authorship of “Rebel’s Last Yell” commonly attributed to reclusive southern author Ely Pennington. “Rebel’s Last Yell” would typically be assigned for high school reading, and to make Maggie’s story more interesting (and somewhat more understandable), she “found” a 1960s book review of the novel. Though written over 50 years ago, Pennington’s novel of racial terrorism in the Jim Crow South is an iconic masterpiece of American literature, which remains relevant after half a century since its original publication. From Edsell Goodnight’s article in Hewlett’s Literary Review:

Ely Pennington’s Rebel’s Last Yell is part coming-of-age story, civil rights anthem, social commentary, and religious criticism woven from a series of anecdotes and southern folklore. Miss Pennington, an heretofore unknown, has landed squarely in the middle of the modern literary world without prior publication in any periodical, collection, or the briefest of letters to the editor of her hometown newspaper. Her career has seemingly washed ashore like Venus with no traces of a natural literary birth. From whence has she come?

Pennington, clearly influenced by Mark Twain and contemporaries such as Carson McCullers, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, and Harper Lee, joins the pantheon of female southern writers, having been thrust instantly into their sorority, but without leaving traces of the usual footsteps to glory. No Harper’s, no Vogue, no Atlantic Monthly. Where has she been, and why not a word until now?

And what words they are, now that this genius has chosen to release her vision to the rest of us. The rhythmic undulations of her prose are like the gentle rippling of a pond on which a pontoon sits with the reader savoring every word and nuanced phrase. Nothing more is required than to open his mind to the vivid imagery, as this newly minted author carries the reader from the shore to greater depths. Once unmoored, stories unfold, reminding us of times described as simpler, but which were far more fraught than the idylls romantic writers have led us to believe.

Set in the 1930s, Pennington immediately introduces us to Jefferson “Little Jeff” McComb of Cumberville, Mississippi whose father Big Jeff is the small-town doctor raising his son as a widowed father with no help except for his devoted housekeeper Olivia and a handyman named Blodgett. Because their house is located on the edge of Cumberville, Little Jeff has few white playmates to choose from and becomes best friends with Olivia’s nephew Titus.

Because Dr. McComb is a wise man of principle and without prejudice, he doesn’t see skin color as a barrier to friendship, and encourages the boys in their summertime pursuits of fishing and exploring the nearby woods. Cumberville is filled with people who do not believe the same way. Since he is their doctor, he cannot risk undermining their confidence in him or his medical practice.

The Great Depression is in full swing and poverty is rife. There is a feeling among impoverished whites that their jobs and their birthrights have been stolen. It’s time to send a message.

One evening, when Titus is staying the night with Little Jeff, Dr. McComb is called away to an emergency after Olivia and Blodgett have gone home. The boys, unsupervised, decide to sneak out of the house and down to the creek to check their trotlines. They can hear music from the midweek prayer service coming across from the black church.

Suddenly the night air is rocked by a series of three explosions followed by what sounds like a pack of howling coyotes. The music has stopped and there is screaming. The full moon, which had lit their way, seems much brighter, but the boys soon realize amidst the screaming that the orange glow is coming from a distant fire. They leave their fishing and head toward the inferno.

Law enforcement doesn’t arrive until dawn when the church is nothing but embers. Two deputies gather information, but insist that the fire was an accident. The church was nothing but a wooden frame structure with no electricity or running water. Lanterns had been used after dark, which they determine was the cause. Six church members are dead, and the protests of the injured go unheard by the deputies who insist that the suddenness of the fire has affected the survivors’ recollection.

The final section of Miss Pennington’s book deals with the following summer when two deputies, also Klan members, go on trial with four other men who have been accused of bombing the black church. There is tremendous conflict in the McComb household as the doctor supports Little Jeff’s decision to testify about what he saw. Oliva is at her breaking point as she cries for her employer not to allow it.

In what is the most memorable passage of the book, Dr. McComb attempts to assuage his housekeeper’s fears while simultaneously demonstrating his character: “Olivia, what kind of man would I be if I stood by and did nothing? What kind of father am I if I do not teach my son that when we hide from the tasks we must face, when we let fear rule us, when we let ignorance rise to power, then we are doomed to live in a society where no one receives justice, the truth is meaningless and corruption is accepted as normal. No, Olivia, out of his love and sense of duty, Little Jeff has more courage than all those cowards who roam the night in white hoods. Those who stand trial may not be found guilty, but they will surely be acquitted if we do nothing. Little Jeff must take the stand, speak the truth and together we’ll face the rebels who have hopefully yelled for the last time.”

Time will tell whether or not Miss Pennington has given readers the best she has to offer, but Gentle Reader, your faithful book reviewer believes that this author’s literary well runs deep, and our thirst will be quenched repeatedly in the years to come.

© 2018 by Patrick Brown

Pennington’s Hoax is published by W&B Publishers and available at Amazon. To learn more about my other books, including Murdered Justice, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

 

Maggie’s Back in Town!

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Pennington’s Hoax is available at Amazon or directly from W&B Publishers

About a year ago I had the pleasure of introducing Maggie Lyon to readers who picked up a copy of Murdered Justice and learned how this food-writing sleuth stumbled across a famous dead body after an exclusive Los Angeles dinner party.

Since Maggie revealed United States Supreme Court Justice Scarpia’s murderer, she’s been busy. We meet her again in Pennington’s Hoax just after the promotional tour for her book about Scarpia comes to an end. Finally recognized as an investigative journalist, she’s now a regular on cable news, and she’s found a new mystery to solve.

There were a few weeks she spent alone in her apartment with nothing to do, but a long lunch with her literary agent provides an unusual opportunity. Maggie learns from the loose-lipped Rina Akin about a new client. It’s none other than reclusive author Ely Pennington who wrote Rebel’s Last Yell about 50 years ago, and is about to come out of retirement with a sequel. This is the biggest literary event in decades, and would Maggie do Rina the favor of reading the manuscript and perhaps writing a review?

Every high school student or college freshman has been assigned Rebel’s Last Yell to read (and if not, there’s a chapter in Pennington’s Hoax to refresh your memory), and everyone who’s read it knows that it was Pennington’s only novel. Actually, it was her only known literary work. She never published short stories, poems, or even a letter to the editor after going into seclusion around 1965.

That’s about the time she split up with childhood friend Garvin Canfield who authored Before the Gallows. Fewer people have read Garvin’s famous book—a fictionalized version of real events made into a movie by the same name. Garvin loved celebrity, but he made a few enemies while rising in the literary world. Cranking out novels and short stories was evidently much easier for him than it was for Ely. Some even speculated that he wrote her famous novel and let her take all the credit (and the money), but neither of them ever spoke publicly if that were the case.

Maggie tells her friend Andrew Campton about how terrible Ely’s new book is, and at a dinner party she first hears the rumors that Ely was a fraud. Andrew, who is always looking for interesting subject matter for his CNN show, sends Maggie to New Orleans to interview Ely and find out the truth about her writing career. Strangely enough, the ninety-something Ely passes away in her sleep before Maggie can confront her on national television. Ely’s death, however, doesn’t prevent Maggie from wanting to solve Pennington’s Hoax, but it seems there aren’t many people left from those days to talk about it.

Maggie gets conflicting information from her various sources, and ends up with more questions than answers. While trying to get to the bottom of Pennington’s Hoax, Maggie realizes that there was a murder and ends up fleeing New Orleans in the middle of the night, but coming home to New York doesn’t keep her out of harm’s way. Readers may recall the ominous threats made at the end of Murdered Justice, but Maggie hasn’t forgotten—the threats and the man who made them!

© 2018 by Patrick Brown

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“Murdered Justice” from W&B Publishers is available at Amazon

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

Comment In the Space Provided

Someone recently texted me, asking if I were free to talk. Without awaiting my response, that individual rang my phone and wouldn’t accept an excuse that I was too busy. Among the problems in the modern age, we can’t pretend we’re not home or otherwise involved when there’s a strong probability that we actually have a phone in our hands. Worse, someone sees you post a longer than usual response under someone’s social media comment when you’ve led the world to believe that you were otherwise engaged in nobler pursuits. Seconds later you’ve been cornered!

It’s the 21st Century version of that nosy neighbor I used to have who would phone me up on Saturday mornings from her breakfast nook and say, “I can see your car in the drive and I just saw you open your curtains. Pick up your phone!”

Nowadays, the flutter of curtains is seeing me online and sensing an opportunity to talk. I can’t pretend that I’ve left my phone lying somewhere because the person next to me is also texting the same person and writes, “Yeah! He’s right here!”

I had no choice, but to take the call, which began with the accusation: “You’re very negative lately, and this has to stop!”

Good lord! That’s not beyond the realm of possibility, but could I have a specific example? “In your writing! You are so negative!”

Specifically, to what are you referring? I have been involved with my forthcoming book Pennington’s Hoax, and because of that I’ve neglected this blog One More Thing to Read. I’ve also not texted this person or exchanged e-mail since last fall, which could have been seen as neglect rather than negativity, so what, pray tell, have I written recently and so often that you find so undesirable?

Could I have been insensitive online? I like to think that I’m restrained with my social media comments. They’re certainly milder than I might offer in the privacy of my own home. I also limit my expletives to private use unless I attribute them to one of my characters. I don’t want to give the impression that the air is blue around me, but I’ve lived long enough to become familiar with profanity. After all, a good number of my friends are gold medal contenders at cursing.

As the caller was berating me, I was trying to recall all the things I’d said and written in the past few months that would have been offensive. Some days I write thousands of words, and would never begin to recall a fraction of them. Perhaps the person standing next to me exchanging texts and giving away my location had related something that I thought was funny. My comment perhaps got lost in translation because this mad texter had misquoted me or hadn’t typed my words with the correct inflection, but please tell me what it is that has you so upset.

No specific examples were provided, but I kept hearing “Lately, you have been…” “In everything you write…” and “It comes across to me very clearly that…”

I should have hung up, but that would’ve certainly been considered negative. I also wanted to know the answers, but kept feeling like the parent of a teenager who keeps hearing, “Everybody’s doing it,” “You’re so mean!” and “You’re not listening to me!”

By this time I really wanted to get negative, but I let the whole conversation play out. I still have no idea to this day what set off the caller. I’ve not been called back to receive more feedback, which has been a relief. The situation is likely that I expressed an opinion the caller didn’t expect, and my tumbling from some pedestal had resulted in this big to-do.

I recall the days leading up to Moral Ambiguity’s release. It was the first time that a large collection of my words was going to be read by people beyond my world. Once the genie is out of the bottle, as they say, but I eventually got used to the idea that someone might read what I’ve written. I still haven’t gotten comfortable with the idea that someone might become outraged, but I can’t control that. Just don’t call me up on the phone and get onto me about it. It’s best to leave a comment in the space provided.

© 2018 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at: http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

At Least February is Short

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Snowy mornings in the  the woods are beautiful, but only if they don’t last forever.

One of my favorite things about February is that it’s a short month. 75% of the time, it’s 28 days, and since it falls in the middle of winter, the loss of the 29th, 30th, and 31st means that spring will be upon us before we know it. Most of March is still winter, but the stores have put out their Easter merchandise by then. I finally get a sense that spring is just beyond our grasp.

Not that this winter is nearly as cold here as last, and it’s certainly not been as bad as elsewhere, but there is a heap of snow on the ground as I type this. I’m reminded that those sunny days in the 50s, quite unusual for winters in the Pacific Northwest, aren’t coming back right away. Even the bulbs had begun to believe it was time to come up, and how sad to see their young greenness barely poking above the heavy, wet snow. In most cases, they’re completely buried.

Nature provided a white Christmas, which is always magical, but I don’t want anything to linger if it’s going to keep me trapped inside. I’ve been lucky compared to the weeks of accumulation last year. At least I’ve been able to get to the movie theater a few times, have the chance to eat someone’s cooking besides my own, and get a few glimpses of the area peaks covered in snow. That’s all gone for the time being.

I now regret not taking advantage of the warmer sunny days when I could have been working outside to clear more land or haul broken branches from the earlier windstorms. These ongoing projects are especially time consuming in the spring, and I’ll kick myself in March and April for not having gotten a head start. However, I told myself that the bug I caught right after New Year’s had not completely gone away. There is still a lingering cough when I say (or type) the word “cough.” I didn’t want to get overheated and have a relapse and, oh, aren’t those more dark clouds heading this way?

At least the snow covers the messes I haven’t cleaned up, and that allows me some time to pretend they don’t exist.

© 2018 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at: http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1