BOOK STEW REVIEW: ‘Decent People’ by De’Shawn Charles Winslow

Below is the latest Book Stew Review from Eileen MacDougall, host of the long-running Book Stew, a video and podcast devoted to writing in all forms, authors, playwrights, and even a cat who survived a tornado and wrote a book about it.

Decent People by De’Shawn Charles Winslow

Ah, we are happily back in West Mills, NC again, and this time (1976), we ride back and forth across the bumpy corridor that is the right and wrong side of the tracks.

Josephine Wright, born in the small town and abruptly moved to NYC by her mother at 12, has returned to retire and to marry her old friend and neighbor Lymph (Olympus) Seymore. However, upon her arrival, Lymp’s three half-siblings, with whom he does not get along, are all found shot to death in their home.

Lymp is an immediate suspect, and Jo needs reassurance that he is not the perpetrator and that his rarely seen but fearsome temper did not flare up into brutal violence. Every tongue in this town, Black or white, is wagging about the three victims, who were both mysterious and widely disliked.

Drug dealers? Relatives? Racists? The local white police chief has no interest in either dead or live Black people, and Josephine takes it on herself to try and clear Lymp.

One of the victims, a pediatrician, seems to have her sister and brother on a tight leash and Josephine finds out that she had tried to “convert” a young gay man into being straight by having two teenage boys beat the gay out of him.

The incredible gossip line is vividly portrayed as is the era when being an out gay man was tantamount to being suicidal in a tiny town. Josephine’s beloved brother in NYC is actually dealing with the same fears, so it’s not just the South: it was the times (and still is in my places, and getting worse).

The author’s fondness for the comfort of a tiny town cocoon, along with his deep knowledge of the harm perpetrated by its lack of privacy, make this brilliant sociological mystery sophomore effort almost as fine as his debut novel, In West Mills.

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