Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found

Gilbert King. Riverhead, $28 (432p) ISBN 978-0-399-18338-6
The perversions of justice under Jim Crow chart a devious path in this labyrinthine true crime saga. Pulitzer-winning historian King (Devil in the Grove) explores the aftermath of the 1957 rape of a white woman named Blanche Knowles, the wife of a wealthy citrus baron in Lake County, Fla., a locale notorious for trumped-up prosecutions of black men. A dragnet led by Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall rounded up African-American suspects, but then Jesse Daniels, a mentally impaired white teenager, was accused of the crime. Despite evidence that his confession was coerced, he was committed without trial to a hospital for the criminally insane. King follows the Daniels family’s struggle to free Jesse for two decades as it played out against Florida’s intensifying civil rights movement, untangling along the way the extraordinary web of lies that racism wove around blacks and whites alike (for example, Blanche’s family dismisses a lead on a new suspect to spare her husband “the indignity of having a wife who had been violated by a black man”). At the story’s center is the decades-long reign of terror of Sheriff McCall, a Klan leader who killed prisoners, beat suspects, brutalized interracial couples, and railroaded innocent people, and was opposed only by crusading journalist Mabel Reese, who braved death threats and bombings to help Daniels. Packed with riveting characters and startling twists, King’s narrative unfolds like a Southern gothic noir probing the recesses of a poisoned society. Photos. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/12/2018
Release date: 04/24/2018
Paperback - 666 pages - 978-0-525-58934-1
Compact Disc - 978-0-525-52824-1
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio

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