Thursday, September 20, 2007

New: Antebellum America Novel, May Ring the Bell

Fire Bell in the Night: A Novel, Geoffrey Edwards, Touchstone Press,
paperback, 464 pp., $15.00, September 2007.

Publisher's Weekly says:
"One of the two winners of the First Chapters contest, Edwards's provocative debut begins in the summer of 1850 as the debate over the expansion of slavery into the Mexican Cession territory prompts threats of secession and war. A slave revolt and rumors that the leader of the uprising is roaming the countryside recruiting an army further frays nerves in Charleston, S.C. When a local farmer is caught harboring a runaway, he is charged with a capital crime. The New York Tribune sends young reporter John Sharp to cover the trial; he quickly befriends planter Tyler Breckenridge, the scion of one of the most powerful families in Charleston. But as Sharp and fellow reporter Owen Conway uncover clues of a covert militia buildup, Sharp begins to suspect that Breckenridge is involved. As the emotionally charged fugitive-slave trial unfolds, Sharp and Conway rush to expose the secessionist conspiracy and head off war. Edwards fills the gaps in the record of the Crisis of 1850 to produce a plausible scenario that eloquently captures the fear and rivalries of the antebellum era, though many passages could use a healthy pruning. For fans of historical fiction—and Civil War fiction particularly. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

The publisher's shill:
Filled with historic details of the time, Fire Bell in the Night explores the explosive tension between North and South, black and white, that gripped Charleston, South Carolina, in the summer of 1850. Geoffrey S. Edwards's first novel tells the story of New York Tribune reporter John Sharp, sent to cover the capital trial of Darcy Calhoun, a farmer who stands accused of harboring a fugitive slave.

As the trial begins, John quickly realizes that not everything is as it appears in the genteel city of Charleston. A series of mysterious fires in white establishments brings the state militia, a curfew for the black population, and rising tension at the courthouse. To unravel the city's secrets, Sharp must enter Charleston's plantation society, where he is befriended by Tyler Breckenridge, owner of the Willowby plantation, and his beautiful sister Clio.

Set against the backdrop of a nation headed toward civil war, Fire Bell in the Night is a page-turning account of a trial and one young reporter's efforts to discover the truth.

CWL's take on this:
It doesn't appear to be a bodice ripper.
After reading a portion of the first chapter online, it's not storytelling in the tradition of Howard Bahr, Shelby Steele, Charles Frazier, Michael Shaara (CWL's favorites). But appears to be more a a John Jakes style of novel. I'll read a few more pages in the Borders' coffee shop and report back.

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