cover image SCORCHED EARTH


David L. Robbins, . . Bantam, $24.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-553-80176-7

Intricately plotted, insightful and deeply affecting, this novel by the author of the bestselling The End of War probes the malignancy of racial prejudice among the self-righteous citizens of a tightly knit Southern blue-collar town. At first, no one seems too put out by the interracial marriage of 32-year-old Elijah Waddell and Clare, the 22-year-old white granddaughter of Rosy Epps, former schoolteacher and leading citizen of Good Hope, Va. When their daughter is born without a brain and dies only minutes after delivery, Rosy—a driving force among the hierarchy of the Victory Baptist Church—invites controversy when she has the child's body buried in the all-white churchyard cemetery. However, she raises no protest when the deacons have the casket disinterred and moved to the cemetery of a nearby black Baptist church. That night the white church is burned to the ground, and Elijah is caught seemingly red-handed at the site, watching it burn. The judge orders Nat Deeds, a former assistant DA, to return from Richmond to defend Elijah. Anxious to put the case and Good Hope behind him, Nat tries to convince Elijah to cop a plea—but when the body of the bullying sheriff's teenage daughter is discovered in the ruins, he is charged with capital murder. Overnight, the once-serene backwater becomes a time bomb of pent-up racial enmity. With empathy and beautiful prose, Robbins succeeds at evoking the vagaries and triumphs of the human heart. Agents, Tracy Fisher and Owen Laster of William Morris. (Apr. 2)

Forecast:Major print and radio promo will help propel this provocative title into the spotlight, where it belongs.