Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson

The Secret of Magic

“I would like you to come down to Revere, Mississippi, to investigate the death of Joe Howard Wilson, a veteran recently and honorably discharged with the rank of lieutenant from the United States Army.  His family, and most especially his father, Willie Willie, has worked for my own family for years.  Willie Willie has expressed to me his wish to have this unfortunate incident investigated by a Negro.  I thought it best to choose a Negro from outside the state of Mississippi.  I imagine you are far too busy in New York to find time to attend to this matter, but should you choose to concern yourself, I will agree to pay all the attendant expenses.


 Mary Pickett Calhoun (M.P. Calhoun)”


Joe Howard Wilson has just come back from the war.  It is October 1945, somewhere in Alabama.  Joe is on a bus, about 40 miles away from his home town of Revere, Mississippi.  While on the bus, the sheriff of Aliceville, Alabama tells the “Colored” bus riders to get up and allow for German POWs to sit in their seats.  Rightly so, Joe declines.  This one stand marks him as a dead man.  A couple of hours later, he is pulled out of the bus, tortured, and killed.

Regina Mary Robichard knows all about the differences of the color of your skin, she knows that her father was lynched by white men before she was born, and she knows that being a young woman lawyer is hard enough without adding the color of her skin as a setback.  Working for Thurgood Marshall on the NAACP LDF counsel for the past couple of years has proven to be both tricky and rewarding.  Since she is the youngest at the firm she has to deal with the soldiers’ cases from all over the country.  Soldiers like Joe Howard are still being discriminated based on their skin color, and it is her job to find them justice.  This seems simple, until M.P. Calhoun’s letter arrives.  Nothing is simple in this case, not to Regina, and she volunteers to go to Mississippi to investigate and represent Willie Willie.

In Mississippi Regina finds a world that is battling change and has the ability to slow down progress.  Regina quickly learns that New York can have its bigot moments, but nothing compares to the fashion of the south, with its oppressive heat and oppressive customs.  Not only will Regina have to navigate a world with a different set of rules than the law, but she will have to discover M.P. Calhoun’s secret, particular about the novel she once wrote called The Secret of Magic.    

The Secret of Magic, which is discussed in the book, is a book that Mary Pickett wrote about a young white girl, with two friends, a black boy and a white boy.  Together these three play in the magical forest of Magnolias, and listen to Daddy Lemon’s (a Negro “Nimrod”—apparently that means good hunter, learn something new every day) stories of magic and mayhem.  It was an innocent book, until there was a murder and it looked like Daddy Lemon could have done it.  Soon Regina realizes that there is more fact than fiction in the story, and characters begin to resemble the town folk of Revere, Mississippi.  M.P. Calhoun has created a story full of secrets and personal stories of the residents, including her.  It is up to Regina to unravel these stories and secrets, survive pre-civil rights racism, and find justice for Lt. Joe Howard Wilson. 

A great story with a bitter sweet ending, which will make you believe in the good of others and make you believe in the bad, as well.


Thank You Edelweiss and the publisher for this ARC.  4 out of 5 stars. 

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