Matthew Guinn. G-u-i-n-n. Remember that name, because this Mississippi novelist is making his mark on the literary scene in the history/mystery genre.
His second novel, “The Scribe,” was released in September by W.W. Norton & Co. Within a few days, positive reviews were springing up on the web, social media and by word of mouth. “The Scribe” was unexpected considering that Guinn’s first novel, “The Resurrectionist,” was contemporary fiction. That book earned him honor as an Edgar Award finalist.
Though “The Scribe” and “The Resurrectionist” are set in different time periods, their protagonists are forced to face how far they will go to fight for what is right. Both novels give readers a taste of the ugly powers of racism and prejudice. It’s an environment where prejudgment isn’t limited to one race or another, but can be directed toward anyone for any reason – race, faith, wealth and personal prejudices.
This time, the author takes us back to Atlanta as she stood in the late 1880s, still reeling from the Civil War. Guinn takes readers into his imagination, letting them picture the war-worn city, its haggard citizens and its overhanging cloud of racism as it probably truly was. The author, an Atlanta native, builds his history/mystery on a foundation of historic details, events and mood. The result is a fast-paced murder mystery enhanced by fine detail and intriguing characters.
A gruesome murder has been discovered, and ex-detective Thomas Canby has been recruited back to the city that once turned its back on him. Members of a secret group of the rich and powerful, known as the Ring, think they have Canby in their back pocket. If he was shunned for embezzlement once, then why won’t Canby shade the truth in their direction this time? They pressure him to “solve the case” without regard to who is truly guilty or innocent.
The Ring is worried that the murders will threaten attendance at the 1881 International Cotton Exposition, an extravaganza that investors hope will bring money and recognition back to the New South.
Canby isn’t alone in the hunt. He’s been paired with virgin officer Cyrus Underwood, Atlanta’s first African American officer. Underwood is working his first case after his promotion from janitor. Since the killings have been mostly wealthy black entrepreneurs, Atlanta police want the investigation to appear that both races are working together to stop the mad man.
Suspicion points in all directions. Who is the murderer whose victims are left sliced, diced and with a capital letter carved into their body part? Is it a deranged human or the essence of pure evil?
Reasons for finding the killer point in all directions, too. Canby wants to clear his bad name and settle down with a school teacher. Underwood wants to prove that people of color are intelligent problem-solvers, are strong in their force and mostly, that they are not for evil.
Many innocents, those with no reason to be killed, die. The murderer, who has become more sloppy and careless, gets away. The score, especially Canby and Underwood, has not been settled. The circumstances set the backstory for what will hopefully be Guinn’s third book. Until that next edition appears, readers can stay busy imaging who should play what role if “The Scribe” becomes a movie. My vote is for Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club” Oscar winner) and Jussie Smollett (“Empire” TV show.