Shortly before his death with no living heirs, plantation owner Ben Douglas signed papers granting freedom to his slaves and providing money for their new lives as free men and women. Will, Tom, and Teeny were among those slaves living on the Mary Dale plantation and eagerly anticipating these upcoming changes. Without warning, the unscrupulous Colonel James Pritchard illegally takes control of the plantation and forces slaves to remain where they are and live in much harsher conditions than they have ever known.
Pritchard gives Teeny, a light-skinned beauty, to a friend of his to serve as a fancy girl, i.e., caretaker and sex slave for her master in his summer home away from his wife. Will and Tom grab their papers and money so they can escape from Mary Dale one night. Although they have specific instructions from a former preacher about where to go and whom to trust, their safe passage is far from guaranteed. Anyone from anywhere could betray the two men with large bounties on their heads. Will is especially valuable because he’s been educated, and Tom has value for his physical strength.
Their journey keeps them moving by foot and by boat with the immediate goal of finding a Jewish attorney known for his willingness to help runaway slaves. Constantly hunted, tracked, and at risk of being killed, the two men must keep moving to escape from their pasts. Slave hunters are everywhere and one especially persistent detective derives great pleasure from catching his prey.
At nearly 400 pages, this book follows the two men and one woman for many years of their lives, and provides intriguing details about their experiences, such as the intricate old lady disguise that Teeny adopts to avoid detection while traveling onboard a ship. Details are vivid without being excessive or tedious. Broken into 97 short chapters, the writing remains crisp and clear throughout the entire book, with interesting dialogue and appropriate emphasis on the horrors of slavery (including humiliation, torture, rape, and death), without dwelling unnecessarily on the more lurid aspects.
Historical fiction lovers, especially those interested in slavery in America’s Deep South, will find plenty of cultural information, including the food, clothing, language, transportation, manners, and laws of that particular time and place. Author Paul Steinmann combines professional writing, carefully plotted storytelling, and vast knowledge of his subject in his impressive debut novel.
~Carol Michaels for IndieReader