If (as I have) you've watched Mississippi Burning at some point and seen numerous mentions of the Ku Klux Klan in TV shows and documentaries, you probably think you know all about the racial hate crimes of the American Deep South, but reading the intriguingly-named novel Tribes of Time takes you behind the scenes, showing more shocking, fictional but nevertheless realistic incidents and awakening us to the fact that the issues are still relevant today.
At first, the "Southernese" dialect is sometimes difficult to comprehend (for a European) and seems clumsily formulated, but it effectively gets you into the right mental setting - you'll soon find that you're reading the dialogues in your head with a Southern drawl ! The prose is evocative and emotionally-charged and it is easy to feel the deep-rooted fear on one side and ingrained hatred on the other. The details of how a forensic investigation is carried out are interesting and add an extra touch of realism to the story too.
Cumberland County and the loathsome Ku Klux Klan-loving Sheriff Vernon are totally fictitious but you get the awful feeling that places like this could still exist in sleepy backwaters, where a person's skin colour could still mark him out as a worthy target of a "coon hunt" just because that's the way it's always been.
The tale of ingrained racism and corruption in the legal system is gripping, especially as it is (unfortunately) totally believable. I only have one slight gripe. The rather far-fetched mention of the time machine at the very end doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of the novel to me, and blows apart the gritty realism that the rest of the novel has built up. For me, it detracted from the tale and wrecked the perfect ending.
It's still a great read though, and one that I'd highly recommend if historical fiction based on one of the less glorious parts of Americah history/culture appeals to you.
star rating : 4/5
RRP : £10.15
Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.
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