Updated: Jul 4, 2020
Atticus Turner is fresh out of the Korean War and headed up north to Chicago because of an urgent message he’s received. It seems his father Montrose is in some kind of trouble and Atticus’ uncle George has called on him to help. Atticus and his father have a tumultuous relationship, both of them clearly loving each other but both also at odds concerning just about everything having to do with life and living as a black man in 1950s America. Turns out, Montrose went on a trip to New England to discover more about the heritage of Atticus’ dead mother and has run into a spot of trouble. Atticus and George must join forces to help rescue their relative from deep danger, teaming up with a stowaway in the form of cousin Letitia. Once they arrive, they discover that Montrose is being held captive by a secretive occult group known as the Order of the Ancient Dawn and led by the notorious Braithwhite family. They have plans for Atticus and his family, plans that mingle with magic, monsters, and ghosts. And this is just the first encounter between Braithwhites and Turners, as their destinies become entangled in a web of deceit and hidden mysteries.
This excellent novel is broken up into a series of novellas, each story dealing with a different member of the extended Turner family and their interactions with Braithwhite heir Caleb. While Atticus takes first place in the story, he soon fades into the background as we follow Letitia and her purchase of a haunted house in Chicago. The story shifts from there to explore the other characters, including George and a quest for a lost book, Hippolyta and her discovery of a new world, Rose and a magical potion that can change her from black to white, and little Horace and the devil doll that is pursuing him. These all weave together to create a bigger, grander story, and the threads come together at the end for the final showdown between the Turners and Braithwhite and another, rival magical lodge.
The biggest thrust of this tale is the mixing of Lovecraftian themes with the struggle of black people in the 1950s. Racism is a big chunk of the story here, as we meet cops and businessmen that are perhaps more frightening than the supernatural monsters and ghosts that lurk at the edges of our reality. Not only does Atticus have to fight with a master magician and his dark machinations, but they have to do tangle with the master race, all while navigating being black in America in 1954. Every turn they take is fraught with peril and danger, but perhaps the greatest moment of the book comes at the end, when our beloved cast confronts an unprecedented danger and laughs it off. Despite the evil facing them and its horrific menace, this trouble doesn’t even come close to being as terrifying as living as a black person in America.
I cannot recommend this book enough. Matt Ruff has written a novel that is both highly entertaining, scary as hell, and full of interesting social insight. This is going to be an HBO series produced by Jordan Peele very soon, so go on and read it before the TV does its thing.
Four Buckets of Blood out of Four
Kelly is the author of dozens of stories and dozens of reviews. He likes to write, he likes to read, he likes going to the movies, and he loves to laugh. He hails from the wilds of Kentucky and if you'd like to see more of his work, check out his website: www.kellymhudson.com or on Amazon