cover image The Liar’s Bench

The Liar’s Bench

Kim Michele Richardson. Kensington, $15 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-61773-733-6

Richardson, author of the memoir The Unbreakable Child, misses the target with this over-the-top debut novel, which details how a girl spends the days shortly after her 17th birthday searching for the truth about her mother’s suspicious death. In a small Kentucky town in the early ’70s, Mudas “Muddy” Summers is convinced that her long-suffering mother, Ella, didn’t take her own life. When Ella’s abusive boyfriend, Tommy Whitlock, turns up dead himself, Muddy homes in on villain Roy McGee, whom Muddy caught in an argument with her mom on the day she died. Meanwhile, racial tensions run high as a bigoted older white man, Harper, antagonizes Muddy’s mixed-race beau, Bobby Marshall. Though Muddy isn’t aware of it, folks seem to know that Bobby is descended from a slave who was hanged from gallows that were later made into the town’s titular liar’s bench. Richardson’s flimsy plot hinges on plenty of convenient coincidences that strain belief. Her characterizations are flat and one-note, with baddies often descending into cartoonish hyperbole. The romance between Muddy and Bobby also falls flat, as Richardson attempts to squeeze a love story into an already disjointed narrative. Despite the book’s faults, Richardson manages to put together a chilling view of race relations in the South. Sadly, this isn’t enough to sustain this unsuccessful novel. (Apr.)