By 1862, a slave named Cassius has worked his entire life for the white plantation owner of Sweetsmoke. Because of his experience as a carpenter and his unusual relationship with Hoke Howard, his master, he is able to obtain small favors unattainable by the other slaves on the plantation. When his friend Emoline, a free black woman, is murdered, he feels compelled to find the murderer, despite resistance from the white community, his master, and even other slaves on the plantation. Because Emoline was black, no one else seems interested in solving the crime.
The author has uniquely described the degradation and horror of slavery as it existed in the 19th century. He has captured its indignity, the sharp contrast between the white and black population, and the humility of slavery as an accepted way of life.
The novel is well written with excellent descriptions of the slave-versus-master conditions that existed at the outbreak of the American Civil War. Cassius is a strong, principled black man who feels the wrongs and injustices but is impotent to change his status. His quest for determining his friend’s killer, while he himself is held in bondage, had me enthusiastically turning the pages to find out how or if he would discover the murderer’s identity. This is a very convincing novel about the trials and tribulations of plantation life. I highly recommend it to those who enjoy a good mystery and who want to learn more about the treatment of blacks in the South during this tumultuous time in American history.