A Gentleman in Charleston and the Manner of his Death
A fascinating version of a true-to-life story is the basis of this novel by the award-winning William Baldwin. Charleston newspaper editor Captain David Lawton (the fictional guise of an actual historical figure) discovers that despite surviving the Civil War and Reconstruction, his biggest battles are during peacetime. He struggles to keep his newspaper afloat while resisting the temptation of his wife’s sister, who is keeping him company while his wife is abroad. This potentially explosive set-up trails away, however, as the sister leaves for New York, and the captain’s wife returns with a lovely Swiss governess in tow. Sparks fly between the captain and the buxom governess, but the governess also flirts with a wastrel poet and a married doctor who happens to be their neighbor. Meanwhile, the captain’s increasingly erratic wife finds comfort visiting a fortuneteller who was once her husband’s lover. There’s much material for murder, yet when a murder does happen, it’s for surprisingly trivial reasons, and the subsequent trial is never fully plumbed for dramatic potential. A Gentleman in Charleston is an interesting look at post-Civil War South Carolina, and a quintessentially southern novel: quite a lot goes on, yet nothing much happens.