TITLE: The Secret of Magic
AUTHOR: Deborah Johnson
A letter sent to the NAACP in 1946, asking for help getting justice for a murdered, black war hero on his way back home to a small town in Mississippi, catches the attention of newly minted, black lawyer Regina Robichard, as much for the case as for the person who sent the letter: M. P. Calhoun, author of Regina's favorite book when she was growing up. That book was "The Secret of Magic," a story about black and white children playing together in a magical forest. Convincing her boss, Thurgood Marshall, to let her go investigate, Regina heads from New York City to the heart of the South, lugging her own baggage of injustice with her.
M. P. Calhoun, aka Mary Pickett, isn't anything she expected. An aristocratic, older white woman, Pickett makes it clear to Regina that she sent the letter purely to satisfy Willie Willie, the victim's father, someone she's fond of. But Regina is determined to get justice for Willie Willie's son Joe Howard. Her presence brings out distrust in the white community, and having lived a long time in New York City, Regina has a lot to learn about race relations in the South, where everyone knows everyone's business and only a few black people seem to want her to succeed.
There isn't much of a mystery here; in fact, about two-thirds through, Regina is told what happened by the killer. The book is more an examination of a changing environment where the way things were and are and always will be can no longer be sustained. For a book grounded in reality -- in the Author's Note, Johnson cites the real people who inspired the story -- it reads like a fairy tale at times, especially when quoting M. P. Calhoun's "The Secret of Magic." All the characters, white and black, are fully drawn. None feels like a stereotype. The feeling of satisfaction I got after reading the last page is lingering with me, something my favorite books do.