|Phillip DePoy: The Devil's Hearth|
Press (Hardcover), ISBN 0312284853
In The Devilıs Hearth, Phillip DePoy introduces Professor Fever Devilin, a folklorist and a native of a small town in the Appalachian hills of Georgia. Devilin escapes from academia and returns to his birthplace, only to find the corpse of an unknown man on the porch of the cabin he inherited from his parents. Before the night ends, an unseen attacker fires shots at Devilin and his boyhood friend, Deputy Skidmore Needle. Shortly afterwards, the pedantic Andrews, Devilin's university colleague, arrives at the cabin. The trio joins forces to solve the murder.
The residents of the town remember Devilin as a troubled youth and
treat him with condescending protectiveness. The local sheriff despises
him and takes Skidmore off the case, hampering their efforts. Another
shooting and one more murder occur during the investigation. The locals'
habit of keeping secrets forever makes discovering the truth about the
murders, and some unpleasant truths about the past, dauntingly difficult.
The women of the hills hold a special power, presiding over the town from their kitchens. Devilinıs most important revelations occur over coffee and pie, with the woman of the house doling out pearls of information. A surprise appearance by a powerful woman from Devilinıs past ties together many threads and answers his most pressing question, which has nothing to do with the dead man on the porch.
A folklorist himself, DePoy writes authoritatively of the field and of the Appalachian culture that Devilin struggles to penetrate. In a key scene, Devilin videotapes, and DePoy lovingly describes, a local resident making a ladderback chair by hand using homemade tools. DePoyıs reverence for the ways of the mountain people (usually dismissed as "hillbillies" by the larger culture) makes the story an enjoyable glimpse into a mostly unseen world.
DePoy lavishes special attention on the folk music of the region. The local men who spend their days aimlessly hanging about the service station spend their nights jamming in the same location. They create haunting melodies of traditional tunes with unusual instruments. DePoy writes of their music with such detail and respect, the reader hears a whisper of it on the page.
Undemanding and entertaining, The Devil's Hearth would be at home on the beach or in the backyard this summer. My only quibble: DePoy uses a couple of cheap plot devices to wrap up the story. By that time, though, I cared enough about Fever Devilin to forgive him. I hope to see more from DePoy in the future.
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