Raymond L. Atkins
Medallion Press, Inc
Reva Blackmon is the probate judge in the small town of Sand Valley, Alabama. Her husband, Wendell is a policeman in the same town where his duties largely consist of breaking up dog fights, investigating alien abductions, extinguishing truck fires, and spending endless hours riding the roads of Sand Valley. The book opens with Wendell contemplating a dead dog and trying to decide if he really wants to arrest Deadhand Riley and Otter Price again. Since Reva and Wendell live above the jail, which is located in a rock castle with turrets and a moat thanks to Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, Wendell is not too fond of the idea of having Deadhand for a houseguest, so to speak.
Something of much more import quickly takes his attention as Wendell is dispatched to a real crime scene. A burned body has been discovered at a local farm named Sorrow Wood, and it is believed to be that of a self-proclaimed witch who has a reputation for promiscuity. As the investigation progresses a long list of suspects includes Wendell’s deputy, the entire family of the richest man in town, and nearly everyone else who belonged to the coven or otherwise knew the departed.
While the mystery does propel some of the story, this is not a straight mystery and mystery fans should not come to this book with that expectation. This is a story primarily about relationships and some of the difficult things that people face in their lives. The relationship between Reva and Wendell, which she believes transcends time, is paramount. While she believes in God, reincarnation, and Christianity, Wendell believes in Reva. He has no idea if they have loved in past lives, but he knows how much they have loved in this life.
Reva and Wendell are wonderfully drawn characters, as are the others who people this book, so real they could walk off the pages and join the reader for a cup of coffee. The narrative is rich with exquisite detail as illustrated in this passage, “Jacob was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease… and slowly but steadily, fragments of his memory were flaking off and drifting away with the breeze. He was fading into oblivion one recollection at a time, losing the good along with the indifferent and the bad. It was a sluggish, merciless way to go, as bad as Eunice’s Parkinson’s in its own way, and no less final. Eventually he would forget how to eat, how to breathe and how to live.”
As a counterpoint to the very serious parts of the story, Atkins offers up plenty of humor. Reva is a master of the “understatement” and her quips make the reader smile as much as Wendell does. And Wendell has a good twist of mind as well.
Sorrow Wood is now available as an e-book.
Raymond L. Atkins first novel, The Front Porch Prophet, was published by Medallion Press in 2008. His stories have been published in Christmas Stories from Georgia, The Lavender Mountain Anthology, The Blood And Fire Review, and The Old Red Kimono. His columns appear regularly in the Rome News/Tribune and Memphis Downtowner Magazine.