In the summer of 1952, Lillian Johnson was found dead in her home, slumped in the wheelchair that had become her cage due to multiple sclerosis. An overdose of barbiturate had triggered a heart attack, but the scene was not quite right. It looked as though someone other than Lillian herself had injected the fatal dose.
Dr. Kate Marlow, Lillian’s physician, and best friend, now sits in the Round Rock city jail. The only country doctor for miles, Kate cannot remember her whereabouts at the time of Lillian’s death?and the small Tennessee town buzzes with judgment.
As Dr. Kate’s trial approaches, another woman is determined to uncover the truth about the night of Lillian’s death. Memphis reporter Shenandoah Coleman grew up in Round Rock on the wrong side of the tracks, but unlike the rest of her unsavory clan, escaped her destiny. Now, back in the town she grew up in, she’ll have to turn every stone to keep Kate from a guilty verdict.
Set some decades after Little Joe, this finds the one and only county doctor in jail and to go on trial for the murder of a patient that had been suffering from MS. Dr Kate has one major problem – she can’t remember going out to Lillian’s house, never mind administering the fatal dose of sleeping powders.
A “Big City” reporter – Shenandoah Coleman – comes down from Memphis to cover the trial. She has more than a vested interest as she grew up in the area and knows all too well what it’s like to have people against you for no better reason than your name.
Shenandoah makes it her business to both support Dr. Kate, but to find if she can uncover anyone willing to take the side of the doctor. Her plan takes her all over the county, and she comes across a wide range of people: those who’d support her but would never make it to the stand (usually poor, black people); those who wouldn’t support her (rich, white people); those who wouldn’t support Shenandoah (middle class working white people) etc. Finally, the day of the trial comes along, but still it’s a time for surprises and shocks.
The language of this story is more mature than the telling of Little Joe – which I think even the author acknowledges was told in the voice of a lost, lonely, young boy. Shenandoah is older, better educated and has become aware of the limits of where she has come from (poor white trash) and that by existing she is already a grade above those around her. She’s not necessarily better, but by being able to read, travel and work for the air force in flying planes, she has already done more than the illiterate women of her clan whose entire existence seems to be to drink, get married to cousins and produce babies every year or so.
The book also covers aspects of the deep south when it comes to “white trash”, a community still smarting from “losing” the slaves; and what people will forgive for successful white people.
On the whole, I enjoyed this book more than Little Joe, with the change in tone and style contributing in no small part to this. Whilst I enjoyed reading it, I’m not sure that I will seek out the other two books in the series, as I’m not invested enough emotionally in the community to wonder what happens next.
About this author
Nashville, Tennessee, was the site of his ontology/neurotology practice, where he was associated with Vanderbilt University as a clinical professor, and where he continues to be part of the faculty as an adjunct professor. He retired from full-time clinical practice in 1997 and moved back to Texas where he continues to work as a consultant for three major medical device companies. He currently resides in Austin, Texas