Beulah Hill

William Heffernan, Author Simon & Schuster $24 (304p) ISBN 978-0-684-86226-2
An obscure state racial law decreeing that third-generation offspring of mixed marriages are white (commonly called ""bleached"") is the springboard for this mesmerizing tale of murder and malice in a hardscrabble Vermont community during the Depression. Heffernan's perfectly timed plotting steels the reader for the tragic clash of white townies and the proud black family living on Beulah Hill in the small town of Jerusalem's Landing. When die-hard racist Preserved Firman's 25-year-old son, Royal, is found pitchforked and gutted in Jehiel Flood's woods on Beulah Hill (also known as Nigger Hill), the black patriarch is accused of the murder. Torn by racial loyalties and self-doubt, young constable Samuel Bradley, a bleached descendant of slaves once owned by Firman's family, finds himself with few allies as the townies side with Preserved. The seasoned county deputy, sheriff Frenchy LeMay, suspects everyone, including Samuel, and pushes racial buttons to get at the truth. Samuel, in love with Jehiel's daughter Elizabeth since childhood, takes steps to turn suspicion away from the Floods, but Frenchy sees through him and goads the constable into an uneasy alliance. They discover that Royal had sex with a black woman shortly before his death, a situation that could have incited Preserved to kill his own son, and that Royal's best friend, Abel Turner, was with him that evening. A jittery undercurrent pervades the hypnotic cadence of the dialogue as Heffernan (Tarnished Blue; The Dinosaur Club) weaves a richly detailed period setting with an acute awareness of character, creating a suspenseful tale that gains depth and clarity from its social context. Veteran thriller writer Heffernan surpasses himself with this moving story. Agent, Gloria Loomis. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/01/2001
Release date: 02/01/2001
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