"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Walking Through Shadows

Title: Walking Through Shadows
Author: Bev Marshall

There is no greater thrill, I think, for a reader, than to discover a new writer who communicates with you on an emotional level. The writer might be someone with a long list of books in print who you've first learned about, or the writer could be new and the book is a first novel. That's how I feel now that I've read Ms. Marshall's evocative first novel. She has 2 others in print and I'll be looking for them.

Walking Through Shadows starts with the discovery of the body of Sheila Carruth Barnes in the cornfield of her employer, dairy farmer Lloyd Cotton. Sheila, a simple girl with a humpback, had been beaten and strangled and the suspects are quickly narrowed down. But this is no mystery book, not at its heart, and before Marshall gets to the truth of things, she shows us how Sheila, a firm believer in magic, a young woman still in her teens who suffered horrible abuse from her father, affected the lives of the people who took her in: Lloyd; his wife, Rowena; their ten-year-old daughter, Annette; and Stoney Barnes, the young worker at the dairy who falls in love with Sheila and makes her his wife. As Sheila teaches Annette, the only way to get past troubles is to talk through your shadow.

The book lets us see Sheila as the other characters knew her, alternating povs, starting with Annette, with framing sections from the pov of Leland Graves, a reporter covering the investigation. Leland starts things off in a fairly matter-of-fact fashion, but once the narration shifts to Annette right after, Marshall's assured voice of the girl drew me in.The whodunit is not really a surprise, just the details of it. There is an enevitability of the story that is quite poignant. What matters here is seeing how these people come to love Sheila and cope with her loss, how they deal with the investigation and the secrets that are squeezed out, and for Annette, a coming of age lesson never to be forgotten.

I have no experience, outside of books, of Mississippi on the brink of World War II (Sheila's murder occurs in 1941), but I felt as if I was there, in that time period, feeling the heat of the summer sun, and the attitudes of farm folk in a small Southern town. Marshall puts the reader right there and by the time I got to the end, even knowing pretty much how things would end, I still found my eyes tearing.