Jesse Sutherlin comes home from the trenches of World War I, where
…we captured us a handful of them soldaten and one of them spoke a little American. You know something? He didn’t have any more idea why he was at war than we did. We all had a laugh at that, I tell you.
This perspective leaves him less than inclined to pursue the generational feud between his family, the McAdoos, who occupy the west side of Buffalo Mountain, Virginia, and their sworn enemies, the Lebruns, who occupy the east side. Until his cousin and fellow soldier, Solomon McAdoo, is murdered tending to their grandfather’s still. His entire family, beginning with grandfather Big Tom McAdoo, is ready to fetch their guns and start shooting every Lebrun they see but Jesse says hold on now.
The trouble with this whole family is, we got Lebruns on the brain. Something goes wrong in our lives, it must be the Lebruns causing it. We lose a two bit piece, the Lebruns must have stole it. A tree falls down in the road, Lebruns pushed it over. Bad as they are, man and boy, they ain’t the only skunks in the woodpile. I want them to be guilty as much as the next man, but I want to be sure it’s them before I start throwing lead their way.
And then there is a near miss of a lynching, and another murder, and a third, peaking finally in a high noon showdown on top of Buffalo Mountain that will either reveal the murderer or leave a lot more bodies on the ground.
Ramsay evokes a time and a place so vividly through Jesse’s voice that I didn’t read this novel so much as savor every page. It doesn’t hurt that Jesse’s courtship of Serena Barker (a shirttail member of the Lebrun family, gasp) is charming from beginning to end.
“Women don’t go in for any of those thing except maybe the coins. We’d rather have a pocket square, a book, or a sprig of mint.”
“And they give y’all the vote. Lord have mercy.”
And there is a cameo appearance by itinerant peddler Samuel Schwartz, I’m guessing the grandfather of the hero of Ramsay’s Ike Schwartz series. He sells Jesse a hat Jesse didn’t even know he wanted for every last coin in Jesse’s pocket. Fun.