From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Edgar-winner Cook (Red Leaves
) examines the slow collapse of a prominent Southern family in this magnificent tale of suspense set in 1954. Jack Branch, who's returned to his hometown of Lakeland, Miss., and taken a job at the same high school where his father once taught, is dismayed to learn that one of his students in his class on historical evil is the son of the town's infamous Coed Killer. Eddie Miller's father confessed to torturing and killing a local girl when Eddie was five, but died in jail before he could stand trial. Hoping to help Eddie step out of his father's shadow, Jack proposes that the boy write a research paper on the Coed Killer. Eddie is soon immersed in the project, which grows in scope until it encompasses the entire town's sordid past. When Jack's own father's history is brought into question, Jack realizes that he's started a fire he may be unable to control. Excerpts from transcripts of an old trial that slowly unfolds alongside Jack and Eddie's story heighten the drama. (June)
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*Starred Review* Jack Branch, scion of a declining southern estate, comes home from college and, as an act of noblesse oblige, becomes a teacher at the public high school. His class, a classics-heavy exploration of the nature of evil, is over the heads of his students, so he kicks off each lecture with a sensational story from history. One student, Eddie Miller, has a sensational history of his own: his father was the locally notorious “Coed Killer.” Branch decides to mentor Eddie and, fatefully, encourages him to research his father’s crime. Readers who enjoy watching good deeds get punished will be spectacularly rewarded as Branch’s efforts go horribly awry—in large part because Branch isn’t the person he thought he was. The suspense builds slowly but inexorably, helped along with liberal doses of foreboding from Branch, the reminiscing narrator. And, in an ending with near-perfect resonance, we find that the story isn’t really whose we’ve thought it was, either. Cook, an Edgar winner, is known as a crime writer, but his storytelling has grown better and better as his works have become less formulaic. Master of the Delta is a novel about character that just happens to be about crime. --Keir Graff