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Belle City Paperback – August 11, 2014
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About the Author
Penny Mickelbury is the author of ten mystery novels in three successful series: The Carole Ann Gibson Mysteries, the Mimi Patterson/Gianna Maglione Mysteries, and the Philip Rodriguez Mysteries. Mickelbury is also an accomplished playwright and was a pioneering newspaper, radio and television reporter based primarily in Washington, D.C., an experience which provided the basis for her richly drawn characters and their myriad experiences. She is a fifth generation Georgian.
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Readers of crime fiction know and appreciate Mickelbury from her popular detectives—Carol Ann Gibson, Phil Rodriguez, and Gianna Maglione—who have kept readers guessing and turning pages for more than two decades. Belle City is a departure from her who-dun-it fare. It marks Mickelbury’s foray into historical literary fiction. Clearly a labor of love, this meticulously researched and vividly imagined novel looks at the history of a well-known “beautiful city” in the Deep South, which bears strong resemblance to Atlanta, Georgia. Although it begins with the onset of World War I, this is not a story that picks up where Margaret Mitchell’s racially insensitive Gone with the Wind leaves off. It’s a novel that confronts the complexities and tragedies of race head-on.
Belle City is an ambitious and provocative novel, presented in three parts that cover eighty-eight years between 1917 and 2005. The story within these pages is told through the eyes of two inextricably linked characters—one white, the other black; one male, the other female—who witness and experience all that history. They act and are acted upon by circumstances and situations that elucidate the present dramas unfolding on 24-hour news cycles buttressed by Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
Humankind, as T.S. Eliot tells us, cannot bear too much reality, so this novel may prove to be a difficult read for some. Although Belle City is a work of fiction, its pages sizzle with concrete details. For some, its conclusions and understandings will be too hard to swallow. Others may find the construction of the novel a bit challenging. It is told in three parts but also employs three different literary devices. There is a conventional narrative that uses authorial omniscience for some of the story. To cover material seen only by the African-American protagonist Ruth Thatcher, the novel switches to something like NPR’s “Story Corps” setting in which the elderly Ruth is being interviewed by her grand-daughter. A third point of view comes from the white male protagonist, Jonas Thatcher, who tells his version of events through a journal that covers the same time span. This is not a novel for anyone with a two-minute attention span. Anyone willing to spend time with it, however, will catch its rhythm just as one does with William Faulkner and Henry James—and be rewarded for having done so.
Belle City is an eye opener. Intellectually, I am aware of America's history. Many aspects of American history are well known, but not thoroughly digested or examined by the conscious mind. The author presents a powerful prospective on the thoughts and actions of the black characters as they navigate thru life, but also points out aspects of the thoughts and actions of the white characters that cannot be overlooked. The main characters are intricately woven into intriguing tales that personified life in the Deep South from the early1900s until the year 2005.
Anyone who is interested in our country's history will love this book. Belle City is a breathtakingly amazing read. If I could give this book more than 5 stars I would! This amazingly told story is compelling. Ms. Mickelbury captures the story with both a clear eye and a warm heart. So glad I read this book! I'm looking forward to reading more from this author!
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