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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Chiefs by Stuart Woods

Chiefs (Will Lee, #1)Chiefs by Stuart Woods

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Desperate to find a "new" author, I chose this book because it was not new and the reviewers promised murder, politics and corruption. It did not disappoint me.

I began this book in the audiobook format while out walking. Hearing the pace and accent of narrator Mark Hammer made this story real. The print pages never succeeded in capturing my interest in the same way.

Two-thirds of the tale were set within the current events window of my childhood (and probably yours too if you were in high school when JFK was President of the United States). Remotely aware of the civil rights struggles of the sixties, and effectively shielded from local events by protective parents, this story effectively gave voice to the news clips and television accounts clamoring for attention in my world of Elvis, 45 rpm hit records, friends, school and adolescent angst. Even now, it is difficult to believe that these history-altering events were taking place while I lived and breathed without comprehending their significance.

Published in 1981, "Chiefs" won the Edgar Award for a first novel and launched the career of Stuart Woods. It is unique in its approach to a series of murders that begins in 1920 and ends during the John F. Kennedy years. Using the small southern town of Delano, Georgia, and the efforts of three police chiefs to solve a murder and a series of disappearances, Woods weaves the tale around the politics, racial tensions and changes in society over forty years. 

The three parts of the story, one for each successive police chief, are unhurried. Progress in the mystery is not driven by intense desire to solve the crime, but rather by the gradual exposure of a pattern that challenges the "common sense" theories and attitudes of the place and time. The bulk of the evidence is circumstantial. Concrete evidence is uncovered accidentally. The characters are developed with skill as people that readers will recognize. These are people who could have populated the pages of Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Highly recommended.

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