Trafford - 2001 (On demand publisher)
ISBN 155212990X PB
Historical Crime - South Carolina, 1890s

Reviewed by Rachel A Hyde,
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Harper is a crime reporter for a South Carolina newspaper called The Challenge during the Reconstruction era. He not only reports on crimes and mysteries but sometimes even has a hand in solving them and in this slim volume of short stories he gets to the bottom of a murderous ghostly Redcoat, a soi-disant Devil's Island escapee who intrudes on his camping holiday, finds out who lies buried in six unmarked graves that nobody will talk about and saves the President's bacon among other things. This is what the book is about, but it conveys nothing of the magic of these tales. I am not normally a short story fan and always say I like a longer novel to get my teeth into but there is plenty in these brief tales to satisfy several sets of teeth. Drawing on a rich heritage of fiction Harmon has come up with a unique character that although he is never physically described comes to vivid life from his first introduction, and a way of telling the stories that kept making me think they were written back in the 1890s instead of just being set then. Think of Davidson Post's Uncle Abner stories or Blackwood's John Silence, mix them together and you have something like Harper and something of the ambience of these laconic - but well realised - vignettes. Harmon has taken words and crafted them into something that ought to be called literature. This isn't a literary novel - there is nothing obscure here - but I think literary fans would find much to applaud.

A few words and a bold stroke of the pen and it all leaps to life in a way that many wordier writers must surely envy. I read a lot of historical crime but this has to be one of the best - and most imaginative - books I have read this year. One for the keeper shelf (it doesn't even take up much room).

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