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The Drifter's Wheel: A Fever Devilin Novel (Fever Devlin Mysteries) Hardcover – June 24, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
At the start of DePoy's atmospheric fifth novel to feature folklorist Fever Devilin (after 2007's A Widow's Curse), an intense and nervous young man claiming to be 100 years old arrives at Devilin's home in the Georgia Appalachians. The visitor vividly recounts his time in the brothels in Chicago when the tango was new and his experiences in the trenches of WWI. But when the man starts waving a gun around just before slipping into a narcoleptic sleep, Devilin thinks it best to call in expert assistance. The stranger disappears before the sheriff arrives; several hours later, the body of a drifter turns up nearby wearing the same clothes as Devilin's visitor. Devilin is determined to solve the crime and uncover whether the murder victim and the peculiar storyteller are one and the same. Unsettling and engaging throughout, this solidly enjoyable tale will keep readers guessing until the end. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Folklorist Fever Devilin is surprised to find a man asleep on his front porch. The man spins tales and says he is a traveler who has lived many years, even though Fever can see he is a relatively young man. The next day a man is found shot to death who closely resembles the traveler and is wearing his clothes. The coroner claims the man killed himself, but Fever and the sheriff don’t agree. Later, the sheriff arrests Fever’s mentally ill neighbor, Hovis Daniels, who owns the gun that killed the victim, prompting Fever to try to clear him. Using his skills as a folklorist, Fever traces the victim’s family tree to try to discover the relationship between him and the traveler, uncovering the reason for past murders and the mystery of the traveler. Fever’s good friend, Shakespeare scholar Andrews, assists, adding humor to the story. The moody North Carolina mountain setting, the quirky characters, the relationships between the leads, and the tales of times past add to this satisfying fifth in a series. --Sue O'Brien
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Oddness follows Fever wherever he goes and Blue Mountain, Georgia is no different. Fever Devilin, is visited one night by a man claiming to have killed his own brother. Not recently, mind you, but in the Civil War era. Many stories later this same man claims to have killed his brother again during World War I. Now he’s back again to have a third go at him. He sprints away before Devilin can grasp either him or his full story. The next Devilin hears of his visitor, Sheriff Skidmore Needle wants Devilin to identify the man’s dead body. The victim, however, turns out not to be the confessed killer, but someone who looks enough like the killer to pass for his brother. Strangely enough, an old-timer living in a shack on property belonging to the time traveler’s kinfolk, and Devilin’s fiancée Lucinda, a hospital nurse, have also been visited. Thus begins a strange tale, in which brothers smite each other, families pass down legends and holding on to prisoners and sanity is complicated by apple brandy moonshine.
Storytelling at its best: a beguiling mystery that’s almost impossible to figure out or put down. And if you’re looking for wit, check out the exchanges between Devilin and his pal Winton Andrews.
Fever is a retired University Professor (early retirement) who is a a bit obsessed with folk tales and songs, so bits and pieces of them tend to be insinuated into every investigation. He has an encyclopedic knowledge, and what he doesn't know, good friend Shakespearean Professor Andrews does. The two of them become involved in solving crimes.
In this novel, an unusual stranger turns up on Fever's doorstep ( a normal everyday occurrence for Fever)... the stranger weaves a tale of living in the circle of time - having lived through many lifetimes - in which he kills his brother in each lifetime. The stranger falls asleep and Fever phones his childhood friend, Skidmore Needle, the Sheriff - to come to his home and get the stranger. While Fever is making the call the stranger disappears
Then a body is found - it looks like the stranger, but is it? You will have to read the novel to find out the answer :)
Sadly, by the end of the second chapter the novel reigns back and settles into every rut that the mystery genre has to offer. The audience then must follow Devilin as he assumes the role of the detective hero and watch as he examines the body, visits the coroner, talks to witnesses, and deduces complex answers from wildly scant information. The novel's characters are, for the most part, as rote as its plot points, fulfilling roles such as the lawman, the sidekick, and the detective's dame. There are some characters, however, that do enliven the narrative, such as the aforementioned traveler, the senile big band singer, and the ancient mountain man suspect. These characters are on the periphery of the book and are not as constrained by character type, allowing the author to inject a bit more life into them. Therefore, much of the story feels like waiting around for the dull, cog-in-the-machine leads to run into one of the more lively and unpredictable characters. The setting too is praiseworthy as such detective tales rarely venture out into rural areas, and the mere act of transporting the story to an atypical location does liven the book up a bit. But, the fact remains that the novel as a whole does not live up to the promise of those early moments.
Beneath this routine whodunit lurks a much richer and more meaningful story about family history, human nature, and the sweep of time. But sadly, that stranger and more worthwhile story is crushed beneath the wheels of the lumbering and insipid detective tale to which it is tied, jettisoning those early themes and offering nothing to replace them. The book's scant fantasy aspects and unusual setting may provide enough novelty for detective story fans to enjoy, but The Drifter's Wheel will leave casual mystery fans, science fiction and fantasy fans, and other nonaffiliated readers lamenting the fact that such a promising opening could lead to such a painfully routine read.
I appreciate his story lines and plots and always look forward to the next Fever Devilin mystery.