12 November 2009

Ill Wind

William Ledbetter Heath sets his 1957 novel Ill Wind in the fictional town of Morgan, Alabama. Idyllic and relatively prosperous, things begin unraveling right from the start when a leading citizen is rushed to the hospital with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. In a coma and unable to explain himself, the town's residents take up the mystery. Was it an accident? A suicide attempt? In the process, the power structure of the whole county is laid bare, with its intricate relationships among the friends and rivals of the unfortunate man, and their long-simmering conflicts burst into the open. There is no crime in this crime novel, but the repressed desires, sublimated ambitions, and buried secrets add up to make tightly-wound noir tale. In fact, Mr. Heath has crafted a brilliant work, gripping and suspenseful, with deft characterizations, masterful dialog, and an eye for subtle details. I have the 1985 Black Lizard reprint with the Kirwan cover. (I blogged about Southern Noir and W.L. Heath's Violent Saturday earlier this year.)

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