Showing posts with label Don Kingery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Don Kingery. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Death Must Wait

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.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Good Time Girl

Don Kingery (1924-2014) was an award-winning newspaper reporter and columnist in Southwest Louisiana with a career spanning over 50 years. He also played for the Detroit Lions during the early days of the NFL. Along the way, he also authored four paperback originals between 1956 and 1960 with plots in the same vein as James M. Cain and Erskine Caldwell. His final novel was a swamp noir paperback original titled “Good Time Girl” from 1960 published by Dell.

The novel opens in the aftermath of an alleged rape in rural Louisiana that is quickly becoming a major news story. Our narrator is Jack Candless, an alcoholic New Orleans newspaper reporter who travels to cover the salacious story while struggling with his own sobriety.

Cora Sill, age 19, claims that she was raped by a farmhand named Boad Gentry while the girl was swimming in an irrigation canal. Cora’s claim that Boad swam underwater to attack her has earned him the nickname “the frog man rapist” from newspapers seeking to sensationalize the story.

Upon arrival in the small town swarming with media, Jack comes to the conclusion that there may be more to the story. First, the police chief is a moron who couldn’t find his ass in the shower with a map. Second, Boad claims that he’s innocent and was set up by Cora when he hopped into the canal after she called for help. Meanwhile, the police chief seems to be enjoying his newfound celebrity too much to actually investigate the crime. Because this was written over 50 years before “believe all women” was a thing, Jack decides to look deeper into the crime himself.

The rape story becomes more problematic once it becomes clear that Cora is, in fact, the town’s titular Good Time Girl. Moreover, there’s a lot of economic incentive for the police, the media, the attorney, and Cora’s family to have the rape story be true. The moral bankruptcy of the news media in this novel is fascinating and creates the core of the moral dilemma for Jack. Fake news creates unintended consequences that, in turn, create new victims. It’s also remarkable how so many of the same issues surrounding the public’s rush to judgement and the problems involving unsubstantiated claims of victimhood are still being debated 60 years later.

“Good Time Girl” is well-written but it’s not without problems. For starters, there are far too many characters for a 160 page novel, and the paperback is fairly devoid of action or real suspense - but has plenty of melodrama. It’s a book about moral quandaries in the news industry and the eternal battle between a slavish devotion to accuracy and the quest for a good story. The fact that the book was written by a long-time newsman helps push this book just into the recommended column for me, but it shouldn’t be confused with a noir masterpiece. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE