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by William Heffernan
Akashic Books, April 2003
282 pages
ISBN: 1888451408

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William Heffernan, a former reporter for the New York Daily News, won the 1996 Edgar Allan Poe Award for his novel, Tarnished Blue. He is the author of sixteen novels, including the international best-sellers, The Corsican, Ritual, Blood Rose, and Corsican Honor. His novel The Dinosaur Club was a New York Times bestseller and is in development at Warner Brothers to become a motion picture.

It¹s the 1930¹s. The weight of the Great Depression seems relentless and unforgiving. In Germany, Hitler is a rising political figure. And in the backwoods of Vermont is a small town known as Jerusalem¹s Landing. Peace is kept in the small town by constable Samuel Bradley, whose father was the constable before him. Some of the locals pride themselves on the fact that their town was part of the Underground Railroad. But when the body of Royal Firman, a white man, is found on property owned by Jeheil Flood, a black man, the fact that racism is alive, strong and well becomes more than apparent. That racism is flaunted.

The white people in town are convinced that the black people living up on Beulah Hill have gone too far. They see no need for a police investigation. They all know Flood is guilty. When Bradley is not as convinced as the rest of his community, the reason behind his apprehension is clear. He is, what they call, ³bleached². His great grandmother was a black woman, once owned by people in town. A man full of conflict, Bradley has never come to terms with who he is. He so badly wants to be white that he can¹t see anything without tying color to it.

Becoming more and more enraged, Firman¹s father begins to rally the racists, set on eliciting justice one way or another.

Frenchy LeMay is brought in from Burlington to lead the murder investigation. Coupled with Bradley, the two have their work cut out for them. The town is on the verge of a revolution, and no one seems to know what is keeping the small town war from beginning. And on their search for the truth it looks like controversy revolves around Elizabeth, a black woman. And again, the community does not feel Bradley can be objective, since while growing up he and Elizabeth had been best friends, and lovers. But once the shooting begins, there is no stopping it until every last truth is unearthed.

Filled with tension and action, Beulah Hill is an important novel, unsurpassable by any in its genre. Like William Heffernan¹s Cityside, Beulah Hill is an amazing novel filled with concrete characters, an absorbing plot and a compelling mystery that keeps readers engaged and turning pages. Where some other best-selling authors in the same genre use machine gun-like sentences and tend to avoid narrative at all costs, Heffernan¹s poetic literary prose suck readers deeper into the story. His storytelling is effective and brilliant.

Book Summary:

A novel of rare literary distinction‹an erotic thriller combined with a true mystery, and a look back at a little known part of the American societal patchwork‹Beulah Hill, by bestselling author William Heffernan, is a brilliant and deeply original work of fiction. Set in the 1930¹s, the story follows the investigation of a racially motivated murder in a rural Vermont town and the shocking ramifications it has on that backwoods community, which had once served as a stopping place for runaway slaves. Having made new lives for themselves there, many of these former slaves married interracially, and their progeny became what was known as ³bleached². The result was an atmosphere of tension and distrust that‹as so vividly rendered in this novel‹occasionally exploded in acts of violence . . . and even murder. At a time when the Great Depression had created widespread fear and Hitler was just beginning his reign in Germany, Beulah Hill tells the story of a white man who was murdered in an almost ritualistic manner on land owned by the only remaining black family in that small town. Heading the investigation is a young constable who is himself a deeply conflicted member of the ³bleached² underclass and who is intimately involved with the proud and headstrong black woman at the center of the killing.

Reviewed by Phillip Tomasso III, November 2003

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