In 1972, on Mudas Summers’ seventeenth birthday, her beloved Mama, Ella, is found hanging from the rafters of their home. Most people in Peckinpaw, Kentucky, assume that Ella’s no-good husband did the deed. Others think Ella grew tired of his abuse and did it herself. Muddy is determined to find out for sure either way, especially once she finds strange papers hidden amongst her mama’s possessions.
But Peckinpaw keeps its secrets buried deep. Muddy’s almost-more-than-friend, Bobby Marshall, knows that better than most. Though he passes for white, one of his ancestors was Frannie Crow, a slave hanged a century ago on nearby Hark Hill Plantation. Adorning the town square is a seat built from Frannie’s gallows. A tribute, a relic–and a caution–it’s known as Liar’s Bench. Now, the answers Muddy seeks soon lead back to Hark Hill, to hatred and corruption that have echoed through the years–and lies she must be brave enough to confront at last.
Kim Michele Richardson’s lush, beautifully written debut is set against a Southern backdrop passing uneasily from bigotry and brutality to hope. With its compelling mystery and complex yet relatable heroine, Liar’s Bench is a story of first love, raw courage, and truths that won’t be denied.
I enjoyed the premise of this book. The author did a good job of weaving the story’s present day with past events. I liked the way she drew parallels between Ella and Frannie’s deaths. The mystery surrounding Ella’s life and death was intriguing and held my attention. The characters, overall, were well-developed and interesting.
I thought the writing was a little heavy on the “Southern charm.” The book contained homey homily after homey homily. I felt that it made the narrator seem younger than her age, which made some of the darker elements of the story feel jarring. The love story between Muddy and Bobby seemed in some respects rushed, and in other ways naive. It would have worked better if the author had made more reference to the “free love” aspects of the 70s, but that wasn’t really an emphasis in the book. The dialogue sometimes came across as stilted, particularly when a character described the brutal behavior of bigots. It seemed that the author had a difficult time conveying the outrage that such incidents would naturally inspire. There were a lot of outbursts of “Bastard!” and other profanities that detracted from the impact of the narrative.
Overall, I thought that this book was a good debut for Richardson, and I think her writing will only improve with subsequent projects.
About the Author:
Kim Michele Richardson resides in the rolling hills of Kentucky where she is a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and an advocate for the prevention of child abuse and domestic violence. She is also the author of the bestselling memoir The Unbreakable Child. Liar’s Bench is her first novel. She is a contributor to the Huffington Post and is busy working on her next novel, GodPretty in the Tobacco Field.