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Sunday, 21 June 2020

‘Blackwood’ by Michael Farris Smith


Published by No Exit Press,
19 March 2020.
ISBN:978-0-85730-390-5 (PB)

The people of Red Bluff have given up fighting the kudzu vines which now form a black wood all round their town, swallowing fields, trees, farmland, cars and even a house. Now strangers have come to town, and their sleepy world is going to change.

The story begins in 1956, with a young boy, Colburn, killing his father; after that, we move to 1976 and meet a dysfunctional family in a broken-down car. Myer, the local policeman, offers them some help, but they refuse it, and the narrator follows their struggles and disintigration through the novel. The parallel story is of Colburn, now grown up, returning to the town he can barely remember. He meets Celia, a local café owner, who tells him that far from being anonymous, everyone in town remembers who he is. Gradually we’re drawn into the lives of the characters, all haunted by the past, and given different perspectives on them. The kudzu is a brooding presence, atmospherically described, turning from a child’s dream of jungle exploration to nightmare, and the characters feel like real people. This is an unusual crime novel, more a novel about the effect crime has on people, but from half way through the book there is a traditional crime investigation led by Myer.

The writing is stream of consciousness style from the point of view of all the key characters, but goes strangely from chopped-up sentences to several sentences run together, and I found this rather distracting while reading.

An unusual, atmospheric novel about a poverty-stricken family, a man haunted by murder and a town steeped in the past.
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Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Michael Farris Smith is the author of Desperation Road (February 2017), The Fighter (2018), Rivers, and The Hands of Strangers. He is the recipient of the MLA's Mississippi Author Award for Fiction and the Transatlantic Review Award for Fiction. Rivers was named to numerous Best of the Year lists and his short fiction has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He lives in Mississippi with his wife and daughters

 Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.
Click on the title to read a review of her recent book
Death on a Shetland Isle

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