Easter Lilly: A Novel of the South

Tom Wicker, Author William Morrow & Company $25 (304p) ISBN 978-0-688-10628-7

Subtitled ""a novel of the south today,"" this overheated 10th work of fiction from historian and novelist Wicker (The Kingpin; Tragic Failure: Racial Integration in America) doesn't quite live up to that promise. Set in the one-stoplight, one-taxi town of Waitsfield, somewhere off I-95, the action seems trapped in a time warp. Tough, beautiful, black Easter Lily Odum is accused of murdering jailer Ben Neely in her cell. Drawn by his hunger to provide justice, white attorney Shep Riley returns from Vermont to the South, where he once fought many a civil rights battle, to protect her from bloodthirsty prosecutor Tyree Neely, Ben's very powerful older brother. Interlacing lines of (mostly unrequited) attraction--between Shep and his old-flame associate Meg McKinnon and between Tyree and Meg, Shep and Easter, to name only a few--move the story along more than does the question of law: was the killing self-defense in the face of threatened rape? Yet, despite the sexual tension and Wicker's serviceable ear for dialogue, this stereotyped battle between mushmouthed rednecks and 1960s throwbacks is stagey and overwrought. (Feb.)
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