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This weekend I finished David Fuller’s novel, Sweetsmoke, which I first mentioned on WigWags here.

A work of fiction can be judged by many criteria. My approach is pretty simple.

  1. Did it keep my interest past page five?
  2. Did I find myself wanting to set other pressing activities aside to return to the story?
  3. Did the characters grab me?
  4. Was the writing such that I could see what the characters see?
  5. If a mystery, did it keep me guessing?
  6. Did I learn something?
  7. Was I a bit blue the day after I finished it because — I didn’t want to be finished?
  8. Would I recommend it to family, friend, or colleague?

Here is my run down on Sweetsmoke. The numbered answers below correlate, of course, to the aforementioned questions above.

  1. By the time I thought about whether the story had held my interest past page five, I’d just finished Chapter 5. Enough said on that one.
  2. My finances remain in a growing “to do” pile.
  3. The protagonist, Cassius Howard, was entirely satisfying as the central player in the story. I found particularly intriguing his relationship with his owner, Hoke Howard. And what a fresh idea to make the “sleuth” of the murder mystery that is the undercurrent of the story, a plantation slave.
  4. I found Mr. Fuller’s descriptive writing excellent. His recounting of the Battle of Antietam (see Antietam National Battleground link here), was shockingly realistic and worth the price of the book alone. He is a master of “showing,” not telling. Well done.
  5. The mystery’s twists and turns definitely kept me guessing. I won’t reveal anything here…
  6. While I was familiar with the history, Mr. Fuller’s description of plantation life from the slave’s perspective was insightful. Many readers will benefit from the historical aspects of the book.
  7. I am completely miffed that I don’t get to continue the story this evening.
  8. I just this minute loaned my copy to my sister to read on her vacation. She and her daughter will likely fight over it. Vacation reading is sacred. Only the best.

The Bloody Lane, Antietam Battlefield. Photo: National Park Service

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