Decent People

Bloomsbury. Jan. 2023. 272p. ISBN 9781635575323. $28. F
In the mid-1970s, after decades in New York, Josephine Wright returns to her sleepy North Carolina hometown of West Mills to be with her beau, Olympus “Lymp” Seymore, whom she knew growing up. Not long after Jo’s arrival, Marion Harmon, a prominent Black doctor, is found murdered along with Lymp’s half-brother and -sister. Estranged from his siblings and having been heard threatening to kill them, Lymp is immediately suspected. Jo instinctively feels it wasn’t him and sets out to do the investigative work the town’s police department isn’t bothering to do. Gathering clues, she learns many of the town’s long-hidden secrets along the way, with her most promising lead centering on Eunice Loving, who brought her son La’Roy to Marion to have his homosexual tendencies “fixed.” Marion’s “treatment” turned out to be an attempted beating by the biracial sons of Savannah Russet, traumatizing La’Roy and leading to a threatening argument between Eunice and Marion. Despite Eunice having motive, the truth, when it finally comes out, will surprise everyone.
VERDICT It’s built around a mystery, but this novel is more a deep literary exploration of the complex dynamics of race, class, and homophobia in the 1970s American South; it proves a worthy successor to Winslow’s acclaimed In West Mills.
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