Beulah Hill

Written by William Heffernan
Review by John R. Vallely

The subject of rural race relations with its undercurrents of mob violence, police brutality, and class conflict is usually assumed to belong in the fictional accounts of Southern life. Vermont seems a curious setting for an historical novel dealing with the tension between whites and blacks. William Heffernan accidentally came across evidence of a Vermont unknown to most and has used this knowledge to provide us with a riveting tale of murder, racism, and personal redemption.

Set in the 1930s in a small and isolated Vermont community made up of descendants of blacks who had remained in Vermont after settling there in pre-Civil War times, the plot centers around an investigation of the murder of a white racist. The town police officer, Samuel Bradley, is a “bleached” Vermonter – an offspring of black and white ancestors. His assignment to find the one responsible for the grisly murder is complicated by the reactions of whites and blacks who are uniformly hostile to one another and intolerant of any search for common ground. Officer Bradley is a decent and honorable man who, in turn, is uncertain of his relationship with a black woman named Elizabeth and with a Vermont policeman sent to aid him in his work. The introspective Bradley definitely has his work cut out for him as he pushes forward against a rising tide of internal conflict and external pressure. The reader is instantly drawn towards Bradley. He is a very sympathetic character in a world populated by irrational and unthinking thugs. The setting is finely crafted, the characters are multidimensional, the writing is intelligent – a fine sample of an historical whodunit.