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Sweetsmoke Hardcover – September 1, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Mystery novels, ever in need of fresh points of view, are given to strange genre hybrids like Fuller's debut novel: part investigative procedural, part narrative of American slave life. Cassius, a secretly literate slave on a Civil War–era Virginia tobacco plantation, is determined to track down whoever killed his mentor and surrogate mother, Emoline Justice, a free black woman. Making liberal use of his limited freedoms, Cassius takes to the road, playing the obvious disadvantages of life under the yoke to his favor. Along the way, he encounters slave traders, Underground Railroad conspirators, Confederate soldiers, Northern spies and a wide assortment of African-Americans, slave and free. Fuller, a screenwriter, has palpable sympathy for his African-American characters, and Cassius's encounters with other characters—like the haunted slave owner Hoke Howard—are the book's strongest parts. Unfortunately, Fuller's solid plot doesn't carry the novel through to its end, and, despite sourcing the work of historians Eugene Genovese and John Hope Franklin, the novel gives off a distinct whiff of unreality. (Sept.)
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"Sweetsmoke is a fascinating and gripping novel about the Civil War. The slave, Cassius Howard, is a great fictional character, and his story is part mystery, part love story, and a harrowing portrait of slavery that reads with the immense power of the slave narratives. A tour de force for David Fuller."―Pat Conroy, author of Beach Music and South of Broad

"David Fuller vividly and movingly describes the life of Cassius, a slave on a Virginia tobacco plantation. Meticulously researched and beautifully written, Sweetsmoke resonates with unforgettable characters and a gripping story of loss and survival."―Robert Hicks, author of The Widow of the South

"With Sweetsmoke, David Fuller gives an extraordinarily nuanced, privileged, and convincing view of the world of slavery during the American Civil War, and of the hearts and minds of the men and women who had to live in that world."―Madison Smartt Bell, author of All Souls' Rising and Toussaint Louverture

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Hachette Books (September 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401323316
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401323318
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,380,539 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

After twenty-five years toiling in the Hollywood studio system, David Fuller has abandoned the movies and now lives quietly as a recovering screenwriter.

David Fuller was born in Chicago, Illinois and lived there until, at age 7, his family moved to Vienna, Austria. Three years later, the family moved to Barcelona, Spain for a year. Then back to the States for the sixth grade.

Fuller spent a year at the Rhode Island School of Design, intending to become a painter. He let go of that dream and transferred to Brown University, from where he graduated.

Of the more than fifty screenplays Fuller has written, many of them have been made into movies or TV pilots. A handful of them even have his real name on them. Others carry his pseudonym. The ones with his actual name include Necessary Roughness, The Heist, and Gang in Blue.

He also wrote and directed the Imagen nominated short film The Ticket, for Fox Searchlab.

His first novel, SWEETSMOKE, was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author, as well as being shortlisted for a John Creasy "New Blood" Dagger Award in Great Britain. It was a Discover Great New Writers pick for Barnes & Noble, and an Original Voices pick for Borders.

Fuller lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife of almost thirty years and his excellent and amusing sons.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Dera R Williams VINE VOICE on August 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The much awaited Civil War novel, Sweetsmoke, by screenwriter, David Fuller, explores slave/carpenter Cassius Hoke's day-to-day existence on Plantation Sweetsmoke in Virginia. Cassius learns about the death of Emoline, the freedwoman who nursed him back to health and taught him to read and write. When it is apparent it is murder, he sets out to avenge her death.

As the story progressed, I became convinced why a black woman's death, slave or free, would have a devastating affect on both black and white, and especially Cassius, as the author drew a picture of Emoline as savior and guardian angel, yet a flawed and vulnerable woman. Emoline and Cassius have a special bond through his owner and her former owner, Hoke Howard, the tortured master of Sweetsmoke. Cassius plots his investigation carefully, yet methodically, never wavering from his mission to find the truth. For every answer Cassius gets, there arises another question; just who was Emoline, other than the woman who rescued him after the most devastating time of his life? A fortunate teller, a healer, and a risk taker; she taught him to read and write and exposed him to literature at a time when it was against the law to teach a slave to read, but Emoline had many secrets.

Cassius' past and present collide amidst the superstitious beliefs of the slaves; there is an aura of bad luck that surrounds him. But while he is somewhat of a pariah, he is also a trusted slave and respected among the field hands and the house servants. Nevertheless, his life as a slave is no less easy; the daily existence to not only stay alive, but to stay one step ahead of those who own him.
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Format: Hardcover
Set in 1862, the second year of the Civil War in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Sweetsmoke, a tobacco plantation struggles to meet the demands of the Confederate Army and the rigors of the planting season. A third-generation plantation owner, Hoke Howard is a hard man, but fair he thinks, handling his slaves with authority and brutality when it is warranted. Cassius is a favored slave, a carpenter who suffers the envy of the field hands for his larger cabin and small leniencies afforded him by the owner. Howard and his wife have lost one son to the war, another fighting on the front; Hoke increasingly relies on Cassius, believing the man to be of excellent quality, a sound investment: "We are, after all benevolent... our people are well-served." Regardless of whatever feelings churn on the inside, Cassius shows nothing to the world, having accepted the limitations of his very existence, freedom but a distant hope and years away. Cautious and enterprising, Cassius keeps to himself in an environment where danger comes from any direction, from the whites, or the petty jealousies of other slaves, their belongings, including pride, meager.

Fuller beautifully describes this nightmarish landscape, characters defined by their circumstances and limitations, Cassius's life one of nearly unendurable grief. Nursed back to physical and emotional health after the loss of his wife and the uncertain fate of his son, Cassius is profoundly grateful for the ministrations of a local freed black woman, Emoline Justice. A healer/herbalist, Emoline nurses the broken Cassius, teaching him the forbidden- reading- over the long, pain-wracked nights of his recovery. Such small moments of grace keep Cassius from despair.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By B. Niedt on March 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Sweetsmoke is an eloquently written historical novel of life on a Virginia plantation during the early years of the Civil War. It also incorporates a murder mystery into the narrative. The story is told primarily from the point of view of Cassius, a slave on the Howard tobacco plantation. Cassius has a relative amount of status and "freedom", as he is the plantation carpenter and a personal favorite of the current owner, Hoke Howard. Of course this does not mean he is happy with his lot in life. Indeed, he thinks of himself as a rather bitter and cold person. Moreover, the war and bad financial management have made conditions a bit strained on the plantation. Hoke is fond of gambling, his wife Ellen is fond of laudanum, they have already lost a son as a casualty of war, and their other son is off fighting, while his wife is bedridden at the plantation.

Cassius learns from Hoke that Emoline Justice, a former slave whom Hoke had freed (and with whom he may have fathered a child), has been murdered. This upsets Cassius greatly, as Emoline had cared for him after a particularly brutal punishment; and while nursing him back to health, she secretly taught him to read. Since no one is interested in solving the murder of a freed black woman, Cassius makes it his personal mission to find and mete out justice on her killer. Being a slave makes it particularly difficult to move about freely to investigate the crime, but Cassius is an intelligent and cunning character who finds ways around these constraints. Along the way he meets some interesting individuals, like the smuggler Gabriel Logue and the mad telegrapher Morningside. And his quest gets him into some interesting predicaments - at one point he finds himself in the middle of the Battle of Antietam.
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