Sweetsmoke, described on the cover as ‘a novel of the civil war’ is about the civil war, but it’s also very much about slavery, murder and justice.
I’ve read a few books about slavery and the stories of brutality are often echoes of the same terrible evil and the horrors suffered by many. This story adds another dimension. There are heart-wrenching tales of injustices, but what makes it different is the focus on the murder of a freed black woman and the efforts of a slave to discover her murderer. An additional flourish that gives this book an interesting perspective is that it takes place in 1862, during a raging civil war that most people at Sweetsmoke believe will end in a victory for thee south.
I don’t think I’m an adequate judge of whether the adversaries and obstacles faced by the protagonist, Cassius, are realistic, but I do know I really liked this book. Cassius is a very likable character and lives among others who are portrayed in shades of grey (except the children who are depicted as completely evil), as people really are. It’s interesting to note that the author did not use quotation marks when one of the slaves was speaking, as if what they had to say was of no importance compared to someone who was either freed or white.
When Cassius discovers that Emoline, a woman who cared for him when he needed it most, did not die accidentally, he decides to find her murderer - not an easy thing to do for a slave. Since Cassius’s job on the Sweetsmoke plantation is carpentry, he has a bit of leeway to move around, unlike most of the other slaves. While this allows him to do a bit of detective work it also lends itself to jealousy and resentment among the other slaves who feel he is favored by the plantation owner. The search for Emoline’s murderer leads Cassius away from Sweetsmoke and the further he gets, the closer he comes to the truth. Along this journey Cassius encounters traitors, slave traders and soldiers and sees first hand the terror of war.
I highly recommend this book – it is difficult to put down. I would like to thanks Lex at minibookexpo.com and Hyperion for giving me the opportunity to review this book.