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Tuesday, 12 May 2015

‘Soil’ by Jamie Kornegay

Published by Two Roads,
12 March 2015. 
ISBN: 978-1-473-60703-3 (HB)

If Thomas Hardy had been American and a hundred years younger, he might well have written Soil.

But he was neither of those things, so it was left to debut author Jamie Kornegay to produce this all too lifelike story of a man unravelling under the weight of nature’s vagaries and his own obsession. A body does appear very early and there are shootings later, but it’s not really a crime novel – unless the crime is a thoughtless, selfish form of low-rent police corruption which contributes to the way all occasions do conspire against the protagonist, if you’ll excuse the Shakespeare-ism.

It’s hard to sum up the storyline in a few sentences, but I’ll try. Soil scientist Jamie Mize has taken his wife and small son to live in the country with the aim of experimenting with a new way of farming. His obsession with his experiment drives his wife away, and a catastrophic flood destroys just about everything he has created. Small wonder, then, that he begins to lose it; and when a decaying body floats on to his property, he opts to go to elaborate lengths to destroy all trace of it, lest he is blamed for its demise.

Meanwhile, a few miles away in the city, a swaggering, self-centred deputy sheriff has his eye on Sandy, Jamie’s estranged wife, and sets about intimidating Jamie in order to free her up for his advances.

Suffice to say it doesn’t end well. Jamie’s tenuous hold on reason follows his life as it spirals out of control; Sandy has her own problems; Shoals, the deputy, is also doomed to be the author of his own downfall.

If the book had been sold to me as literary fiction, I would have accepted it as such and possibly appreciated it more fully from the outset. Once I stopped looking for the clever plotting a good crime novel surely entitles us to expect, and began to appreciate the sensuous evocation of the Mississippi delta and the quirks and twists of the oddball characters and their lives, I began to see it for what it is: quality writing of a high order and a perceptive study of how human nature can buckle under stress.

Read it; enjoy it; appreciate it, as I did, especially if you’re a fan of Thomas Hardy. But don’t expect anything resembling classic crime.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Jamie Kornegay is an independent bookseller in Greenwood Mississippi, where he lives with his wife and three children. He started the Turnrow Book Co in 2006. Prior to that he was events coordinator and radio show producer for the renowned Square Books in Oxford Miss.  Soil is his first novel.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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