Louis Kincaid, back home in Mississippi to take care of his dying mother, takes a job as a sheriff's investigator and finds himself investigating a hanging from 30 years ago, while having to confront the bigotry and racism that has never left this small town, and its prominent citizens, who clearly want to bury the town's past. Louis Kincaid, after a stint in the Detroit Police Department, finds himself confronted with investigating the 25-year-old lynching of a black boy when bones are discovered on property owned by a powerful and prominent citizen of the small town. The only black on the force in the early 1980s, and not exactly welcomed with open arms, Louis finds that everyone would prefer to just bury the boy and bury their past with him. But Louis can't, partly because he wants justice for the boy and partly because he simply doesn't understand Mississippi and how ingrained its history truly is.
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As the book progresses, we learn of Louis' past. He is bi-racial, his father a white man, who eventually left the family because bi-racial marriages in the 1960s simply didn't work there. Louis' mother became an alcoholic and he eventually was put into foster care with a white family, while his brother and sister were taken in by relatives and with whom he and the rest of the family lost touch. He struggles with who he is, why he is there for the woman who wasn't there for him, and his bi-racial heritage, which prevented him from being accepted by both whites and blacks.
Sheriff Dodie, who hired him, didn't know he was black when he gave him the job, because when he talked to him over the phone, Louis was in Detroit and he sounded white, but when he showed up, Dodie let him stay. When the bones are found, with a noose around the neck, a small poetry book and a silver medallion, Louis wants to investigate using modern means like having a forensic expert make a bust of the boy, to aid in identifying him, and to get a line on what the medallion is, because it obviously wasn't the boy's. When Louis tries to find out who is is, he begins to develop a sense of what's its really like here, and what he is up against investigating it.
He begins to form a sort of bond with Dodie, who's nephew is also a police officer, albeit in name only, but Louis, being the smart ass northerner that he is, doesn't quite realize that his northern ways won't work in a small southern town, not even with the blacks, until he finds one in the depressed black section of town. that will talk to him about who the boy may be.
As the story progresses, Louis runs into blockade after blockade and learns some of them are being thrown up by the mayor and Mr. Lillihouse, upon whose property the bones were found. Without the sheriff's permission, Louis talks to the prominent women in the town and word keeps getting back, but Lious makes progress. The Lillihouse's daughter comes home from school and she gets a crush on Louis, but she is white, and then things start getting bad as she also tries to help him investigate, but rumors start flying that their relationship is something else entirely.
Louis uses a contact in the FBI to get some information, and get some tests done, and the agent continually tells Louis to be careful, and offers his help anytime. The agent had been involved in the Civil Rights issues in the 1960s and 1970s in the south, and knew better than Louis did what he was up against. He worried for his safety. He also finds information at the local library which had books on the prominent citizens' families and he also finds a news article from the 1960s about a black boy that disappeared.
The sheriff, at the behest of the mayor, wants Louis to drop it, until prominent white citizens start getting killed. Louis knows he's getting closer to the truth, and Dodie has to allow him to investigate the deaths of the white men. The problem is, from Louis' investigation, he believes all of them are killed because of the bones. Finally, at the bogus funeral for the dead boy, one black man in town stands up for Louis and confronts the mayor about the investigation.
When Mr. Lillihouse is killed, Louis is framed for the murder and the evils of the south rise again. Louis finds himself nearly a victim, but then Dodie decides to step up to the plate and act like the lawman that he is. After an incident in the jail, and as the fruits of Louis' investigation come together as pieces of the forensic evidence arrive, Dodie's nephew changes from the bigoted southern boy he was to Louis' ally and the culmination of all of his work finally reveals the twisted and sad reasons for the now-identified boy's death and the murder of the white citizens of this small town.
Best part of story, including ending:
I thought this story painted a very accurate picture of the South as it was, and how it evolved, showing that you can't legislate people's thoughts and feelings. It also gave an excellent historical view of the way southern society worked. Louis' inner struggles with his own race and his position in his family who couldn't accept him because he was bi-racial was also well done, but none of it was portrayed as simply putting down the south. It was simply how it was and how it is. Very well done.
Best scene in story:
I liked the scene where Louis first talks to Mr. Tinker, the old black man who owns a general store in town, to get information on a black boy that may have disappeared. Tinker talks in circles, tells him nothing, verbally reads him down for thinking there is justice, and tells him he's a token, has no idea what it's like to to live there, where nothing much has changed. He tells Louis he doesn't know them and he doesn't know himself and he won't until he feels the fear "like footsteps following you home at night."
Opinion about the main character:
Sometimes he's too much of a smart ass and I think he would get more traction and support if he weren't. But then, that could be my perspective and down there, it may not have made any difference at all.