College professor Charles Frazier wrote a book (Cold Mountain) that became an immense best-seller with more than four million copies in print and a hugely popular movie, both of which pricked a powerful cord in the reading and viewing public. His second novel, 13 Moons, received mixed reviews, often because reviewers complained that Southern mountain people did not talk as written and because Frazier is reputed to have received an eight million dollar advance, which many believe may have engendered a critical rebuff. This reviewer found the second superior to the first.
His third novel, which is superior in many ways to the first two, is set in a more contemporary time, 1963, where the characters ride in cars rather than on horses. The setting still centers on what Frazier knows best, the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, a locale he continues to mine with great effect. He sets the scene with great care and detail. An abandoned resort sits on one side of a lake, a small town on the other side. His descriptions place us there.
Their father Bud abused their mother for years, but has been acquitted of the murder and has begun a search for the children. Concurrently, Stubblefield, the absentee owner of the dilapidated resort, has received word that he needs to visit and decide what part of the property he must sell. Inevitably, he and Luce begin to attract one another, finally going to see the movie Light in the Piazza. (Ironically, Elizabeth Spencer was in the audience for Frazier's first reading on his book tour.)
This literary page-turner pulls the reader into a world that is reminiscent of film noir. Yet, as Frazier says, he wanted to be sure that the reader's expectations of a thriller "did not happen." He wanted the results to arise from the characters not the action. He has succeeded admirably by creating a tighter story, set in a shorter more contemporary time period, and with fewer characters. Development of memorable characters, the use of music, and the distinctive voices of the people of western North Carolina all contribute to creating a winning combination, one that is sure to garner universal praise.