James Whorton, Author Free Press $23 (288p) ISBN 978-0-7432-4448-0

A smart, slightly hapless 28-year-old amateur historian aspires to change his fortunes by locating a lost set of President Andrew Johnson's papers in Whorton's winning second novel (after 2003's Approximately Heaven ). John Tolley, somewhat cowed by six ill-advised months in New York City ("Can a person so easily whipped as this look forward to any success in life?"), buys a junker from his crooked landlady's crooked nephew and sets out for Johnson's home state of Tennessee—to the eastern counties that Johnson once suggested should become their own state of "Frankland." That Johnson's presidency was widely regarded as a dismal failure doesn't stop Tolley from nosing around the remote, somewhat backward portions of Tennessee, a stranger in a strange land full of colorful locals who understand him just slightly less than he understands them. His quest for nuggets of Johnson-related gold veers off course when he finds himself entangled in a local lottery scandal; other distractions come in the form of friendly locals, including the diminutive hillbilly Boo Price and Dweena, his postal-carrier cousin; there's also Danielle, a visiting would-be television producer from New York, and Professor Luke Van Brun, the backstabbing editor of a history journal who first snubs Tolley and then tries to get to the Johnson papers first. Warm characterization, quiet but exuberantly sly wit and a winning narrator add up to a thoroughly enjoyable escapade. Agent, David McCormick . (Jan. 6)

Reviewed on: 10/18/2004
Release date: 12/01/2004
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 277 pages - 978-0-7432-4449-7
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