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Four moon gifSt. Martin's Press (Hardcover), ISBN 0-312-26264-7
Kris Nelscott depicts the dangerous road that leads to death, destruction and for some, new life, in her first Smokey Dalton mystery, A Dangerous Road. Nelscott pulls the title from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s April 3, 1968, speech: "Its a winding, meandering road. It's really conducive for ambushing…. That's a dangerous road."

Book: Kris Nelscott, A Dangerous RoadThe novel, set in 1968 Memphis, opens with private investigator Smokey Dalton driving his car, journeying to a destination he can't identify. Journey -- the underlying theme of Nelscott's mystery -- frames a historic tragedy.

Smokey, an educated African-American whose friends describe him as an underachiever, travels more than highways. One step at a time Smokey fumbles his way through the tense season of racial conflict in Memphis, Tenn. From the shadows, he watches his childhood friend and college classmate Martin Luther King, Jr., step onto his own Via Dolorosa and approach the final gunshot.

Smokey in many ways never traveled or moved away from the moment 30 years before that ended his childhood and forever changed him into a seeker of shadows. Beautiful, white, Chicago heiress Laura Hathaway challenges Smokey to return to that day and understand the truth. Accepting the assignment binds Laura and Smokey together, unravels Smokey's secrets, complicates his life and ultimately sets him free.

Many of us saw the historic background of Nelscott's simply told tale unfold on the 11 o'clock news. Others studied the events in civics class. Some lived them. But Nelscott personalizes history through the eyes and life of one young man treading the path from victim to voyager.

A few weaknesses flaw Nelscott's monumental undertaking, but overall, this book successfully combines real people, places and events with a fictional mystery. Smokey Dalton, a character we get to know well, changes and grows throughout this story. But certain supporting characters, not quite so finely drawn, seem more like vehicles to move the story forward. Nevertheless, Nelscott's well-plotted story not only entertains, it informs and presents a social commentary with a light hand. Definitely, a book to read and a writer to watch.

Dawn Goldsmith

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