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Harpers' Joy    by Bert Goolsby Amazon.com order for
Harpers' Joy
by Bert Goolsby
Order:  USA  Can
Grace Abraham, 2005 (2005)
Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

When I go to the bookstore, one or more of three things will make me pick up a book and look at it: cover art, title, or author. By these criteria, I would not have picked up Harpers' Joy. The cover art is rather plain, reminding me of a few of the text books that I still have on my shelves. The title does not tell me anything about the book, in particular that it is a mystery. And I have never read anything by Bert Goolsby (although this will change now).

The story takes place shortly after the end of World War II in a small Southern town called Harpers' Joy. Candle Reid is a down-on-his luck, alcoholic lawyer whose wife just left him and whose law partner just died. While trying to keep on top of all the law firm's cases and trying to win his wife and daughters back, Candle gets an impossible case dumped in his lap he has been named the public defendant in a murder trial. The case is hopeless from the start. Candle's client, a young man named Dewey Coltrain, has admitted to shooting one of the town's most prominent (also most hated) citizens Lester Mayfield, Junior. Knowing that he will probably lose the case, and knowing that the judge picked him for his inexperience and ineptitude due to drink, Candle puts off fully delving into Dewey's defense argument until it is almost too late.

Harpers' Joy is a well-paced, tightly-written trial novel. Goolsby's leads (Candle and Dewey) are so likeable, and his characterization of Lester, Jr. so despicable, that readers will be frantically turning the pages during the trial scene to find out how Candle is going to win Dewey's case - it is just not possible that such engaging characters could lose. Also, Goolsby does a wonderful job of capturing the slow-paced, nostalgic feel of the South in the late 1940s. All these elements combine to create a memorable story. I guess the old, overused adage is true: you can't judge a book by its cover. I am so glad I read this one.

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