It took a bit of effort to engross myself into That Bright Land. I had just finished reading Amor Towles’ new, very formally written novel (review coming soon), and switching gears to this post-Civil War drama written in the voice of a Union soldier, turned government man, was stark. But once I made the transition, author Terry Roberts had me the rest of the way.
The book is based on little-known, true events. Those in the South had greatly divided loyalties during the War of the States. In North Carolina, where our story takes place, even within small communities, some families chose to fight for the Union, causing great divides within the population and families. The basis for the story is a massacre that took place at Shelton Laurel in Madison County, where soldiers were ordered to execute their neighbors, those some considered traitors. Well, you can imagine the bad blood and ongoing resentments this caused, long after the war’s end.
So Jacob Ballard, a former Union soldier, who happens to have been born in Madison County is sent for to investigate a series of recent murders of Union veterans living in the county. They are dropping one by one, and no one can identify who the murderer is.
Roberts paints a vivid picture of rural North Carolina in an age of both poverty and growth; of a grand hotel and moonshine running; and the transition from slavery to freedom. Clues to the mystery reveal themselves slowly, and our hero has no technology nor team of experts to assist him. It is pure use of smarts and ingenuity to bring the murders to an end - a very different style than so many popular books today, and a bit refreshing.
Along the way, Jacob has his own personal awakening through rediscovering his long-lost roots, finding kinship, and ridding himself of the War’s demons that haunt him so. Some of the more endearing characters could have been better developed, but it was just well enough conveyed to build a well-rounded story. That Bright Land is a solid, quick, and engaging read.
Publisher: Turner Publishing
Vickie’s rating: 3 stars