Former NFL player Don Kingery had only four published novels during his short literary career – Death Must Wait (1956), Swamp Fire (1957), Paula (1959) and Good Time Girl (1960). The rest of his writing was dedicated to print journalism, a career that spanned over 50 years in and around Southwest Louisiana. His novels were of the Erskine Caldwell variety, centering around strong southern roots and a penchant for poverty-ridden family dynamics that make up the blue collar highways of rural America. Nothing expresses that literary sense more than Kingery's Death Must Wait.
Like Caldwell's superior Tobacco Road, Kingery explores criminal behavior, immorality and mental issues throughout the thick narrative of Death Must Wait. Arguably, the book's only protagonist is Jed, a poor working man who hunts and traps in a dense section of Louisiana Bayou called Morganzas Pass. His father is complacent in his family's rags-to-more-rags lifestyle, never rising above the lowest tier of low class. Often Jed's parents lament their decision to marry, breed or even rise to exist. Jed's sister is a prostitute and his brother a drunk. A sense of escapism feeds Jed's desire to flourish in the outdoors, a trade that provides the only honest wage for the family.
Kingery's narrative expands once Jed is provoked into a fistfight with a belligerent bar patron. Jed's social inadequacies, short-temper and neanderthal strength leads to his undoing. When the man Jed scuffles with seemingly dies on the bar’s sawdust floor, Jed runs to the swamps to avoid a demented, corrupt small-town sheriff who wants to secure his bid for reelection. Eventually Jed is captured and arrested, but it is his love for a young woman named Nila that stirs a cause for action. Jed must either escape or prove his innocence before the backwoods lawyer and sheriff condemns him.
Death Must Wait was an intriguing story that displays crime-noir tendencies despite the abstract approach. Jed is the common-man placed into extreme circumstances, but the author's description of this small-town existence – failures, poverty, corruption, greed, despair – is the focal point. While still retaining a crime-fiction element, the book works more as a cynical look at this era of American history and the social degradation that formed so many of the southeastern cities. If you need more crime in your fiction, Death Must Wait may not spin your wheels. But for a solid, intriguing testament about rural America and it's deficiencies, look no further than this.
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