The Bible Salesman

Written by Clyde Edgerton
Review by Michael I. Shoop

Southern writer Edgerton has never disappointed me with his stories of gentle humor about the South. His latest novel takes place during the post-World War II era, with some flashbacks to the Depression. In 1950, Preston Clearwater, a Clark Gable lookalike (sans mustache) and lifelong criminal who is involved in a car theft ring, picks up Henry Dampier, an affable and innocent looking twenty-year-old Bible salesman who is hitchhiking across North Carolina. Sharp-eyed Clearwater recognizes that the somewhat naive country boy is smart but rather gullible, and since he needs such an associate in his current assignments, he convinces Henry to join him. Henry, believing that he is doing undercover work for the federal government, is willing and able, hungry for adventure and food. However, as more is revealed about Clearwater and his business dealings and as Henry pieces things together and realizes he is involved in something shady and even dangerous, the story takes a somewhat dark turn.

With wonderful storytelling skills and a great ear for dialogue, Edgerton once again gives the reader believable characters and situations; standouts include the “burial tuck” episode, and the elderly woman who throws her voice to make her cats talk. But it is the character of Henry Dampier who really makes the story, with his doubts concerning the Bible’s accuracy, his unshakeable love for his extended family, his meeting and falling in love with the totally captivating Marleen Green, and his concerns about the fundamental issues of loyalty, honesty, love, and honor. A nostalgic and satisfying romp for anyone who enjoys poignant and funny coming of age tales set in the South.