cover image Those We Thought We Knew

Those We Thought We Knew

David Joy. Putnam, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-0-525-53691-8

Joy (When These Mountains Burn) combines in this earnest if flawed outing a meditation on racism in rural North Carolina with the story of an investigation into a young woman’s killing. In the summer of 2019, 24-year-old Black artist Toya Gardner travels from Atlanta to visit her grandmother, Vess Jones, in Jackson County, N.C. There, she’s outraged to find a Confederate monument still standing outside the library and defaces it. She’s arrested by Sheriff John Coggins, a lifelong friend of Vess’s who would’ve preferred not to take Toya into custody. Meanwhile, local Klansman William Dean Cawthorn receives a dressing-down from a superior for staging public actions rather than pursuing the KKK’s agenda from behind the scenes. Defiant, Cawthorn and other white supremacists instigate a riot at the statue, where anti-racist protesters including Toya have already gathered. Toya is found dead after the melee, and Coggins’s deputy is badly beaten by a gang of Klansmen while on a fishing trip. The story then shifts to police procedural, with Det. Leah Green working her first homicide case and puzzling out if the attacks on Toya and the deputy were connected. Though some of the dialogue feels a bit didactic (including a scene in which Vess patiently explains to John the ways in which racism still exists), Joy manages to get the reader invested in his characters and conveys a clear sense of small-town life. Still, it’s not quite enough to sustain the contrived story. Agent: Julia Kenny, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary. (Aug.)