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by Phillip DePoy
St Martin's Minotaur, December 2005
288 pages
ISBN: 0312339348

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

What a spooky book! And I mean that in a good way. Phillip DePoy is new to me, and his book was appealing, although at times disconcerting. He takes a small town mystery that could be trite and imbues it with such interesting characters in such an odd but welcome style that I was fascinated.

I'm not a fan of either small town tales nor 'southern mysteries' when they aim to be funny or quaint or cute. And while this might have been that sort of book, it's not. Even if the protagonist's name is Fever, it's not "look at the eccentric homespun folks."

Fever Devilin grew up in backwoods Georgia and left. He studied mythology, got a doctorate, knows folklore and songs and all sorts of tales. And he came home. Once more living in his small town, he's back where his folks were, where his mother slept around, where his best friend has become the sheriff and where he's involved with Lucy.

Lucy calls Fever one night, distraught; her two delightful nieces (and from all the stories, these were two special young women) have been killed in an odd accident where their car was hit by a train. Why didn't they get out of the car, even if it had stalled? It makes no sense, and Lucy can't manage to let it go and wants Fever to help figure out what happened.

Fever's not exactly a regular guy nor are several of the key people in this book. DePoy however treats the abnormal with respect, never with a smirk or the sort of 'isn't this just outrageous?' type of attempted humor I find so unpleasant when writers go for shock value. Two of the key people in the story are little people, and one of them, Orvid is an albino. A believable, odd, yes, but intriguing man.

There are hints throughout the book that some of the townsfolk believe in ghosts, or at least don't disbelieve; one in particular, a preacher-type whom Fever picks up hitchhiking seems to be not exactly corporeal. Not completely there. This isn't a ghost story, but there are some odd and uneasy barriers between the living and the dead in this tale.

Fever sometimes speaks oddly, but it wasn't so much poor writing as, it seems, his desire to appear different -- educated -- and sometimes what he says is either stilted or a bit pompous. All that education doesn't quite mesh with the lives of people in the Georgia towns.

Always an outsider, I think he wants to continue that way, but on his terms. He accepts them -- from his best friend who is now the law in the town, to the Deveroe brothers who've gone from town nuisances to legit morticians to the snake-handling preacher. Some of them provide him with his best folklore and stories, but it's more than that. While he's never been quite at home among these people, he accepts and respects the way they live.

I'm not sure I buy everything about this story -- some of the details of Orvid's story are a little too strange, for example, and many of the peoples' names were a bit out of the ordinary (Girlinda? Fever?) but maybe that's just how things are there. I was willing to be taken along for the ride based on the strength of the storyteller's skill.

Reviewed by Andi Shechter, January 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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