cover image The Runaway

The Runaway

Terry Kay. William Morrow & Company, $24 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-688-15033-4

Even the most devoted among Kay's faithful fans, those who are awaiting a successor to To Dance with the White Dog, will have difficulty plodding through the forced prose in this overwritten tale of racial violence in rural north Georgia during the late 1940s. Readers who stick out the purple early chapters (dogs, the night breeze and gray light all manage to ""slither"") will be somewhat relieved to discover an engaging, if derivative, story lurking here. Kay enlists ghosts of Huck Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird and God's Little Acre--along with a white-turbaned voodoo priestess called Conjure Woman--in a brave, doomed attempt at country pathos. When two inseparable 12-year-old boys--one white, one black--stumble onto a human leg bone sticking out of a sawdust pile, WWII hero Sheriff Frank Rucker is obliged to probe the unsolved murders of three black men--murders long attributed to a near-mythical masked phantom known in local lore only as Pegleg. Meanwhile, as racial hatred, economic and sexual exploitation and rising social consciousness erupt into rape and more murder, they threaten the sheriff's shy romance with the seductive widow of one of the suspects. Even once the plot gets underway, the writing is inflated and grandiose, and after a climactic, Grisham-esque courtroom scene helps fulfill the Conjure Woman's prophecy, Kay has left few cliches of the popular Southern novel unabused. Author tour. (Oct.)