More advance praise for Kim Michele Richardson and
“Century-old lies, murder, and racial injustice propel a feisty teen heroine to dig into the past in this richly imagined Southern gothic tale.”âBeth Hoffman,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
“With magical writing and a strong sense of time and place, Kim Michele Richardson introduces us to an engaging and unforgettable protagonist in Muddy Summers. We meet seventeen-year-old Muddy at a moment of tremendous personal loss complicated by unanswered questions. Muddy's courage and passion drive the story and I didn't stop cheering for her until the riveting end.”
âDiane Chamberlain, USA Today bestselling author of
The Silent Sister
“You'll hear echoes of
To Kill a Mockingbird
in this haunting coming-of-age story, in which old and more recent tragedies collide. Beautifully written, atmospheric and intricately plotted, Kim Michele Richardson's debut novel will stay with you long after the last page is turned.”âSusan Wiggs,
# 1 New York Times
“Mudas Summers, the seventeen-year-old protagonist of Kim Michele Richardson's atmospheric first mystery, grabs your hand and takes you along as she navigates the twists and turns of her life and in the process unearths the dark secrets of Peckinpaw, which have kept the townsfolk chained to their destructive past, dooming them to repeat the same sins over and over. That is, until the headstrong Mudas unleashes her own fury against those who would hurt her and ironicallyâthrough yet another act of violence in Peckinpaw's long, brutal historyâdiscovers the truth that will clear her mother's name. In this way, Richardson boldly probes behind the facade of place to unmask the damaged psyches of its inhabitants.”âGwyn Hyman Rubio, author of
Please turn the page for more advance praise!
“A poignant coming-of-age novel that pulses with small-town secrets, love and mayhem, and its labyrinth of mystery surrounding two brutal Kentucky hangings more than a hundred years apart.
is a powerful echo of mankind's slight but steady triumphs over prejudices and racial injustice.”âMorris Dees, former financial adviser to President Jimmy Carter, Co-Founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center and author of
Hate on Trial: The Case Against America's Most Dangerous Neo-Nazi
A Season for Justice
“In a story that spans more than one hundred years between two hangings, Richardson tackles bigotry and a society in flux in this gripping coming-of-age mystery that feels relevant no matter what the year is. Mudas (Muddy) Summers' life is thrown into chaos in the summer of 1972 with the apparent suicide of her mother, and it seems she'll risk everything to find out why it's happened. But the small minds of the small town hold their secrets close, and they don't take kindly to any prying. Richardson pulls us back in time (and back into our youth, if you're of a certain age) with her vivid, lush prose, and puts her heroine through the wringer, just like all suspense writers should. With value for readers of all ages,
is a story that will stay with you long after the reading's done.”âJamie Mason, author of
Three Graves Full
is one of those rare books I wish I had written. Southern storytelling at its finest. Mudas (Muddy) is one of the most stunningly intricate characters I've read in many years. This breakout novel crosses over genres and age groups. A must read for those who love a nail-biting suspense.”âAnn Hite, author of
Ghost on Black Mountain
and Georgia Author Of The Year 2012
Kim Michele Richardson
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
who anchored a certainty in my words,
and believed they could soar on eagle wings
I owe much thanks and love to a generous community of kind helpers and supporters along the way: Alissa, Angie, Linda, Liz, Thomma Lyn, Sheri, and the always supportive purglet gang, and to all those who have given feedback or advice.
Thank you to Vietnam veteran Mike Schellenberger for talking with me about this important war, answering my many questions, and for your service and sacrifice for our country.
I am deeply indebted to very dear friends and writers, G. J. Berger, Alice Loweecey, and Jamie Mason: for reading more times than I can count, for their superb second eyes, and constant commitment to me and this novel over the last six years.
Also, for not taking away my comma key.
A “Shakin' Your Tree” salute to my old friend Billy Gibbons for great thoughts that begin on an airline cocktail napkin.
A promised mention and thank-you to my wonderfully crazy and talented hairdresser Cathy Nuss for support and the lovely, big hair days.
I am forever grateful to my editor, John Scognamiglio, for missing his subway stop. Thank you for loving this book and for warmly welcoming me into the Kensington family.
Endless gratitude to my very wise and tireless agents, Stacy Testa and Susan Ginsburg, for your hard work, dedication, and for giving
the very best seat in the house.
To my forever family: My son, Jeremiah, who gave me Peckinpaw and his take on Southernisms. My daughter, Sierra, for inspiring the always-important theme in this work. My husband and superhero, Joe, for your unfailing love and support. I love you all most dearly.
To you, Cherished Reader, my deepest gratitude for allowing me into your home.
Southern trees bear a strange fruit.
hen a lie seeps into the very heartwood of a town, soaks the beams and posts that hold it up from the earth, the rot sets to its work. The ruin that cruelty brings is always just a matter of time. And ruin had fully taken hold in August of 1860, when Mrs. Evelyn Anderson, mistress of Hark Hill Plantation of Peckinpaw, Kentucky, reported that she had been poisoned by her house slave, Frannie Crow.
The plantation's overseer had soiled Frannie on the dirt of the kitchen floor in the big house. Bruised and bloodied, Frannie was unable to perform her house chores the next day. When Frannie failed to serve the morning meal, Mrs. Anderson called her into the dining room and demanded an explanation.
Unable to control her tears, Frannie confessed the rape and the loss of two brass buttons during the assaultâbuttons given as marks of gratitude for twelve years of faithful service.
The mistress immediately sent for the overseer, then ordered him to bring Frannie outside. He gladly dragged Frannie out to the Osage tree, the one that shaded the side yard, bent her over a whiskey barrel, and flogged her until her dress was in shreds and the blood spidered down the length of her legs, pooling at her feet. Then Hark Hill's mistress said to all the Negroes watching, “Since Frannie meant to cheat me out of a day's labor, let it be widely known she has now done it.”
Two weeks later, and in delicate condition, Mrs. Anderson summoned Frannie to her bedside complaining of stomach cramps and fretting the safety of her unborn child. Frannie went outside to the old Osage orange tree, picked two of its fruits, and went about making a warm, milky tea concoction for her mistress, a remedy her mammy had taught her.
Just hours later, Mrs. Anderson miscarried. She called to her husband, Bartholomew Anderson. Weeping, she exclaimed, “Frannie poisoned me.” Mr. Anderson reported the poisoning to the town marshal, saying, “Our house slave did it. Frannie Crow.”
Four days later, a trial was conducted at the courthouse. At the end of Frannie's fifteen-minute trial, the jury of white men found her guilty of poisoning. And, as an addendum, thievery was added to her charges: two brass buttons: valueâtwo cents.
Over the course of the next five days, the good townsfolk of Peckinpaw built a gallows in front of their courthouse. On the sixth day, Town Square filled up with people from as far away as Bowling Green, Lexington, and even Louisville. Many spread quilts on the courthouse grounds, eating picnic lunches and catching up on news and gossip as the children played games of marbles, Graces, and hide-and-seek around the gallows.
At noon, black slave Frannie Crow, Poisoner and Thief, was led up to the gallows, where she was afforded a brief allowance of words.
“Let it be widely known,” Frannie said, “since Mistress Anderson meant to cheat me out of my honesty, she has now done it.”
The hangman placed a seed sack over Frannie's head and cinched it with rope.
Below, Mrs. Anderson, dressed in a silk taffeta day dress with a matching spoon bonnet and fine kidskin gloves, steadied herself against the gallows post. She watched in silence as the trap door opened and Frannie's body dropped through. The rope jerked tight, snapping her neck. A stain spread quickly across the crotch of her burlap dress. Frannie's body released a final death tremor and then went limp. A faint stench wafted across the crowd.
A parasol's long fringe tassels hid the mistress's expression, just as her string of lies hid the truth.
Frannie's body swayed back and forth. A thin, white, holey sock slipped slowly down and off her foot. The wind kicked up, blowing it away from the gallows just like a page ripped out of history.
Frannie's kin was ordered to dismantle the gallows and store it on Hark Hill Plantation, out in one of the wood sheds near the slaves' quarters. In 1862, Amos Crow, yellow slave and son of Frannie, was given the pieces of his mama's gallows and two healthy hogs, along with his Freedom Papers.
Mr. Anderson instructed Amos to use most of the wood, bolts, and square nails to build a pen for Amos's hogs, but to save the finer pieces of oak and hardware to fashion a bench for Town Squareâa gift to the town to commemorate the benevolence of one of their most honorable sons.
The name, “Anderson's Bench,” faded with his memory to “Square's Bench.” But its legacy of misfortune drawn from lies, false promises, and tall tales earned the name it kept for goodâLiar's Bench.
Somewhere, whether in Heaven or Hell or in between, the ghost of Frannie Crow smiled.