Whitney Terrell, . . Viking, $25.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-670-89465-9
The boundaries of racial and sexual propriety are crossed with a vengeance in Terrell's powerful, evocative debut novel, which tells the story of a young black ex-con named Booker Short who calls in a favor after getting out of prison and turns an entire town upside down in the process. When Short finishes doing time for his nebulous role in a dope-selling operation, Mercury Chapman, the white man who was his grandfather's commander in the service, sets Short up with a caretaker job in Kansas City. The young man's rise through the ranks of Kansas City society accelerates considerably when he begins a tumultuous affair with troubled, erratic Clarissa Sayers, a white judge's daughter whom he meets on the job. Their edgy union unnerves everyone they know, especially Clarissa's father, Thornton. But as most of the town knows, Thornton is on uncertain ground himself, his relationship with his daughter disturbingly close. When Clarissa turns up murdered, Short becomes the most likely suspect, but he goes underground until a final meeting between Chapman, Short and Sayers reveals the volatile wartime source of Chapman's old debt and exposes the explosive scandal in an ending that is both surprising and disturbing. Shopworn themes of race and redemption are overhauled here, familiar but fresh in their present-day setting. Terrell's somewhat formal, stilted prose style slows the story's momentum in the early going, but he does a fine job of capturing the atmosphere of Kansas City while fleshing out an intriguing array of characters. Despite the rough edges, the depth of Terrell's emotional and moral perspective marks him as a serious writer with major potential.
Reviewed on: 06/11/2001
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-14-200131-8