Tag Archives: Florida

Book review: At First Light

Vanessa LafayeHaving loved Summertime, the debut novel of Florida-born Vanessa Lafaye, I was looking forward to reading At First Light. I was not disappointed. As with her first book, Florida in the period after the Great War is the setting. But the story starts with a bang in 1993 when an elderly Ku Klux Klan official is shot dead at a rally in Key West. The murderer is a 96-year old Cuban woman. At First Light is the story of Alicia Cortez.

This is an intense story in many ways. Love, politics, racial hatred, prostitution and Prohibition. In 1919 Alicia arrives on a boat from Cuba, running from shame though for a while we don’t know the exact details. On the same day, John Morales disembarks from the troop ship which brought him from Europe where he fought with distinction in the Great War. Watching from the dock is fourteen-year-old Dwayne Campbell, who falls a little in love with Alicia, is in awe of John, and who becomes entangled in what is about to unfold. When John, a white man, a local man, is seen with a ‘brown’ stranger, Alicia, the newly established Klan of the Keys takes notice.

Although we know from page one that Alicia shoots someone, we do not know the identity of the victim. As she will not talk to the police, her motivation is unknown. So as the story of her arrival in Key West in 1919 unfolds, the guessing game begins as the Ku Klux Klan plans its attacks. This story segment takes place over a short few months and the speed at which events unfold is mesmerising. There are many thematic contrasts: the beauty of the location, the poverty and depravation; the global politics of war, the local politics run by corrupt men; the lack of women’s rights, the moral and emotional strength of women.

Inspired by a true story – the murder by the Ku Klux Klan of a white man in 1921 because he refused to end his relationship with a mixed-race woman – this is a novel about freedom. The freedoms fought for in war which are too often, and too rapidly, forgotten in daily life when hate is allowed to overcome tolerance and people become too quick to judge. And once a wrong is committed, who has the right to determine the nature of justice and how it should be implemented? Once the police cannot be trusted, the disintegration of society begins.

I read this book very quickly and didn’t want it to end. Second novels are often a disappointment, this one is not.

Read my review of Summertime by Vanessa Lafaye.

If you like this, try:-
‘The Ways of the World’ by Robert Goddard
‘Curtain Call’ by Anthony Quinn
‘Time Will Darken It’ by William Maxwell

‘At First Light’ by Vanessa Lafaye [UK: Orion] Buy at Amazon

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
AT FIRST LIGHT by ‪@VanessaLafaye#bookreview via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2zh

Great Opening Paragraph 84… ‘Lucky You’ #amwriting #FirstPara

Carl Hiaasen “On the afternoon of November 25, a woman named JoLayne Lucks drove to the Grab N’Go minimart in Grange, Florida, and purchased spearmint Certs, unwaxed dental floss and one ticket for the state Lotto.

JoLayne Lucks played the same numbers she’d played every Saturday for five years: 17-19-22-14-27-30.”
‘Lucky You’ by Carl Hiaasen

Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:-
‘These Foolish Things’ by Deborah Moggach
‘Super-Cannes’ by JG Ballard
‘Herzog’ by Saul Bellow

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
LUCKY YOU by @Carl_Hiaasen #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-1Uw via @SandraDanby

Book review: Summertime

Vanessa LafayeFrom the first chapter, this novel is steeped in its setting. Florida, 1935. Racial divides, love [extra-marital and long lost], the US mistreatment of its Great War veterans, and the threat of the elements dominate this tale of Heron Key. Vanessa Lafaye is a debut novelist but she handles her explosive material with assurance, taking time to build the story as the town prepares for the annual beach barbeque on Independence Day. With the weather reports showing a hurricane approaching, tensions build between the townsfolk and the war veterans camped nearby in cockroach-infested mouldy conditions.

Lafaye took her inspiration from two real events, the Labor Day Hurricane in 1935, and the appalling way the US Government treated its war veterans. Heron Key is fictional as are the characters, but some of the things which happen during the hurricane are based on real-life reports. This is a wonderful meld of fiction and fact, handled by skilled storyteller. Lafaye handles the suspense as if she has been telling stories like this all her life.

Click here for Vanessa Lafaye’s blog.

If you like this, try:-
‘The Knife with the Ivory Handle’ by Cynthia Bruchman
‘The Last Runaway’ by Tracy Chevalier
‘The Other Eden’ by Sarah Bryant

‘Summertime’ by Vanessa Lafaye [UK: Orion] Buy now

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
SUMMERTIME by ‪@VanessaLafaye#bookreview via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1v2