You can’t help being reminded of Lee Harper’s To Kill A Mockingbird as you read this gripping Southern tale of a family taking on the case of their maid who is accused of stealing a tea set from the home of the biggest businessman in town. Tobacco Sticks, by William Elliot Hazelgrove, starts out as political story pitting the well-to-do on one side and the workers on the other. Burke Hartwell is a prominent lawyer in town. He is asked to head the political campaign for the pro-industry candidate. The story is told from the eyes of his youngest son, Lee. Is it a tribute to Harper? But the story quickly turns away from the politics of business versus unions to a case of grand larceny brought against the daughter of the Hartwell’s maid.
Tobacco Sticks has many threads running through it; each of them fascinating in their own right. There is the story of the middle son Lucas who had just returned from the war. He was shot in the foot and discharged because of his disability. Then there is the oldest son Burkie, who comes across as a person full of bluster. He wants to be his father but he is struggling to match up to the big man. Then there is Fanny, the accused, and her yearning to be free of the oppression of slavery. Along with her lover, Silas, demands a story of her own. In fact, each of the characters can afford a book about them.
This book grabs you at many levels and forces you to take active interest in each of its characters. The only downside is that Hazelgrove keeps his characters divided by the line of good and bad. Although a few characters seem to want to jump between the line, he doesn’t let it happen.
This is my first book by William Hazelgrove and I am sufficiently impressed that I will try more of his books. I thoroughly recommend Tobacco Sticks.