Publication Date: 4/28/2015
My Rating: 5 Stars
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.
A special thank you to Kensington Books and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
LIAR’S BENCH, a powerful southern debut novel, by Kim Michele Richardson, a multi-generational chilling mystery, with a mix of coming-of-age, humor, and historical fiction--covering a century of deceit. From racial injustice, lies, small town secrets, murder, corruption, two senseless hangings, and three strong heroines of different generations; grabbing you by the heart, from the first page to the last, and never letting go. Lovable well-developed characters you will remember, long after the book ends! As the novel opens, it is 1860, and readers briefly learn of the nasty mistress of Hark Hill Plantation, Mrs. Evelyn Anderson who cannot seem to deliver an heir for her husband. Her faithful and innocent house slave, Frannie Crow has been raped and accused of poisoning her mistress. Of course after a jury of all white men, she does not stand a chance. They find her guilty and within a week the people line up on Town Square to watch the hanging- a proposed “poisoner and a thief”. Frannie goes to her death, with no one knowing the real truth. She is innocent and her owners are the liars. Afterwards, her son Amos is given the pieces of his mama’s gallows and two healthy hogs, along with his freedom papers. He is instructed to build a bench for the town square out of the wood left over to be called Anderson bench. But its legacy of misfortune drawn from lies, false promises, and tall tales earned the name of Liar’s Bench, the center point of the novel. As we jump to 1972, we hear from our main protagonist, Mudas Elizabeth Summers, age seventeen, living in rural small town Peckinpaw, Kentucky, with her dad, Adam Persis Summers, attorney-- well liked in the small southern town. Of course, her dad also vowed to love her mom, Ella Mudas Tilley but he cheated and drank. More lies. Unfortunately, Mudas had to leave her dad after the divorce, and moved with her mom to Nashville, where her mom learns to love her refreshments (liquor) after she began associating with the devil, Tommy. Before the age of nine, her mom had married a horrible and abusive man, Tommy Dale Whitlock and Mudas was in the way, so back to Peckinpaw--her mom drops her off to live with her dad. Before this time, her dad quit drinking and cheating and begged her mom back with no success. Her mom later returns to Peckinpaw with Tommy and they have a daughter Genevieve. She becomes close to her mom with weekly visits when Tommy is not around; however, due to Tommy- she was not invited to live with them. Now, her mom is dead, hanging from the rafters. She is heartbroken and knows it has to be druggie and abusive Tommy, or the nasty man, McGee; however, everyone says it was suicide. What does McGee and a ledger have to do with her death, what about Tommy, or her dad? Who has motive? She loves her mom, and knows for certain she would never commit suicide. She has find the killer and figure out the mystery, as we learn more about the events leading up to the murder. Mudas is a smart, headstrong, passionate, and tenacious young woman. She is not like most girls- she is fighting in a man’s world of the deep south in 1960s -1970s in a small minded town, in the middle of unrest and racial injustice, telephone party lines, the KKK, Vietnam, Civil Right movement--and her school does not even allow for a proper women’s athletic program-- even though she is a runner with a promising scholarship. A virgin, and naïve in the dating department, she misses her grandmother, long gone; her recipes, warm loving heart, and wise tales of "scents of a man"; how to know real love; now no longer even a mother to confide in. Like most girls from a small town, she has visions of success, justice in an unjust world, an education, love, and a better life. With only one best girlfriend, she now has a best guy friend, Bobby. He is part Indian, Caucasian, and African American; smart and may be going to college in Boston, as has lived in the big city -from the north where he is accepted; unlike this town, where he is treated like a second class citizen. She loves him and he wants to help her find the truth about her mom, and in the meantime he may learn more about his own past. They are saying bad things about her mom and the danger intensifies the closer they get to discovering the truth; many clues leading them back to Hark Hill Plantation, a graveyard, a tree, a cave, encrypted messages, ribbons, a ledger, and some cruel and evil men – nothing will stop her -- Bobby is beside her every step of the way. In this stunning coming-of-age charmer, Mudas and Bobby, two teens take on the entire town full of evil, corruption, and prejudice as they fight all obstacles for justice, not only for their respective generation, but more importantly their family, and the strong women heroines who gave their life, as they help clear their names for generations to follow. A mix of murder, suspense, thriller, mystery, coming-of-age, and historical and southern gothic fiction - crossing several genres. Loved, loved LIAR’S BENCH and you will root for Mudas and Bobby to the end (loved the grandfather, too). When I read the summary I knew I would adore, and immediately starting recommending to my Goodreads' friends, before I reached page fifty. With a line-up of advance praise from my favorite authors: Beth Hoffman, Diane Chamberlain, Amy Conner, Jamie Mason, and Susan Wiggs; high expectations--Kim Michele Richardson, storyteller, lives up to every word, and does not disappoint. An outstanding debut novel, (predict a bestseller) will warm your heart in this triumph over tragedy southern tale. Being in this age range, growing up in the south, Richardson is "right on" with dialect, atmosphere, and setting of these troubling times.. Infused with vivid descriptions of nature, and true love explained through scents, and the strength of a strong young woman ready to shed her childhood ways for womanhood, during a time before love, peace, and bell-bottoms---making an ideal selection for book clubs, with some great discussion questions, included. I am looking forward to reading Richardson’s previous memoir:The Unbreakable Child: A Memoir About Forgiving the Unforgivable. Fans of Dollbaby, Calling Me Home, The Right Thing, This Dark Road to Mercy, Snapshot, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Color of Justice, Necessary Lies, The Third Hill North of Town, and upcoming Lavina, will enjoy this entertaining southern gem. Highly recommend!
Look for Richardson's second novel, GOD PRETTY IN THE TOBACCO FIELD, coming Spring 2016, from Kensington Books. A young girl living in rural Kentucky in the ‘60s is subjected to grueling labor by her God-fearing uncle, and strives to find a ray of hope in her poverty-stricken town through her own tobacco patch, a forbidden first love, and her home-made paper fortunetellers.
About the Author
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, God Pretty in the Tobacco Field. Website
Photo credit: Andrew Eccles New York, NY