On the surface, Marshall, Texas, in 1960 is a small, picturesque Southern town filled with friendly people, quaint neighborhood gatherings and the chatter of children safely playing on Rusk Street. But soon this quiet, safe town where doors are left unlocked at night will be faced with a horrific crime that will leave its people asking, “Do we ever really know our neighbors?”
When young, recently widowed Lucille Harris moves to Marshall, Texas, ten-year-old Bobbi Rogers and her friends, Katie Baxter and Law Miller, watch her as she pulls into the driveway of the vacant house on Rusk Street. The three children are mesmerized by the beautiful, red-haired Lucille with her dark, movie star sunglasses and color-coordinated scarf and lipstick. Bobbie feels drawn to her new neighbor, and though fifteen years separate Bobbi and Lucille, they develop a friendship over piano lessons. Bobbi becomes enmeshed in Lucille’s life as do the rest of her neighbors on Rusk Street who are both shocked and curious when they learn Lucille will be teaching music at Bishop College, the black college a few blocks from the neighborhood. As will happen in small towns, Lucille becomes the subject of much speculation, especially when she invites her students to her home to practice.
Lucille settles in and, with the help of married, resident gardener Mr. Tressell, starts a garden all under the watchful eyes of Bobbi and her friends. When a number of Bishop’s students participate in a local sit-in at the Woolworth’s counter, many residents of Rusk Street expect trouble, but no one expects the tragedy that befalls the sweet, pretty music teacher. Their newest resident is dead and one of their own is on trial for murder. All evidence points to Mr. Tressell, but Bobbi is certain he is innocent, and she hopes to prove it. As the town gathers for the biggest trial to ever occur in Marshall, things don’t look good for Mr. Tressell, but in a small town, one never knows who is watching. Surprises await the townspeople and nothing is as it seems in this heartbreaking tale. When all is done, neither Rusk Street nor its inhabitants are ever the same.
Penny Carlile skillfully captures the intricacies of small town life with its underlying penchant for gossip and conjecture. Within this setting, she wonderfully weaves a tale of deception and sorrow that stays with the reader long after the novel is finished. By also intertwining the anguish of the Civil Rights movement into the narrative, she shows us both the social and emotional turmoil lying beneath the facade of this seemingly tranquil town.
~Kat Kennedy for IndieReader