In 1860 in the coastal city of Wilmington, North Carolina, newspaper reporter Coleman Blue makes an insistent new acquaintance: Ira Spears, an investigator for an insurance company that issues slave life insurance policies. Spears suspects fraud, and he wants a highly reluctant Blue to help him uncover the truth. What results will awaken Blue to the evil of slavery and take his life in an entirely new direction—if he lives to tell about it.
Jacob’s Run is narrated by Blue, whose wry, very distinct voice, capable of handling both high comedy and high tragedy by turns, makes this novel an immense pleasure to read. His Wilmington is populated by a host of memorable characters: the depraved Tarleton family; the freedman—and slave owner—Solomon Politte and his college-educated daughter; and Blue himself, plucked from an orphanage to be raised by the proprietor of the Wilmington Standard. Secrets and unsuspected connections between characters abound. The authors vividly depict Wilmington, a city I’ve spent time in; reading this novel made me want to go back to look around some more.
The authors, whose joint effort has produced a cohesive narrative voice, provide a short but illuminating historical afterword. Sadly enough, the slave insurance policies that are key to the plot are not a figment of the authors’ imagination; the back cover has a reproduction of a real one.