The Night Train ~ A Capsule Book Review

The Night Train book cover
The Night Train
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~ 

Clyde Edgerton’s 2011 novel, The Night Train, is a coming-of-age story set in 1963 in a small town in North Carolina. The South is roiled at this time by the Civil Rights movement. It seems that race relations are on everybody’s mind. There are “whites only” establishments from which black people are barred, such as restaurants, hotels, and movie theatres. It’s going to take a lot of effort to get this changed.  

Larry Lime Nolan is a black teenager living with his family in the town of Stark, North Carolina. He works in a small furniture refinishing establishment and wants to be a jazz musician. Dwayne Hallston is white. He also works in the furniture refinishing factory and is a friend of Larry’s. Some people believe it’s not a good idea for a black boy and a white boy to be friends at this time and place, but friends they are.

Larry Lime, aspiring to play piano like Thelonious Monk, takes impromptu piano lessons from an old jazz musician called the Bleeder. He thinks learning the piano will help him make his way to a better life so he won’t have to refinish furniture his whole life.   

Dwayne Hallston and Larry Lime are big fans of James Brown. They both greatly admire James Brown’s album, Live at the Apollo. They decide they will mimic the album the best they can and perform exactly as James Brown performs. (“The Night Train” is a track on that album.) Their plan is to get a on a local TV music show and from there launch into big-time showbiz.

Flash Akers is the owner of the furniture refinishing establishment where Larry Lime and Dwayne Hallston work. Larry and Dwayne try to keep out of Flash’s way because when they are at work they are engaged in a lot of non-work. Flash is a middle-aged white man living with and taking care of his mama, who is in her seventies. When she has a stroke, Flash has to call in someone to help him take care of her. Will he get a white woman or a black woman to help out? This is an important decision. A lot of old white woman don’t like taking care of stroke victims, especially if they aren’t “ambulatory.” If he gets a black woman, his mama probably isn’t going to like it. “I just want to die!” mama says. “Don’t say that, mama!” Flash says. “It isn’t nice!”   

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp


The Bible Salesman ~ A Capsule Book Review

The Bible Salesman book cover

The Bible Salesman
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

The year is 1950. Henry Dampier is a twenty-year-old traveling Bible salesman, living in the Southern United States. He was raised in a small town by a loving aunt and uncle. His father was killed when he was hit in the head by a tree limb on a passing truck. His mother is…well…she’s unavailable. Henry sells the Good Book because he believes in its message. He is innocent, gullible and too young to know what the world is really like.

When Henry meets Preston Clearwater (not his real name), Henry is taken in by him. Preston tells him he’s working undercover for the FBI, while in reality he’s working for an auto-theft ring. Preston offers Henry a job. Henry is the perfect dupe for a professional criminal like Preston because he believes what he is told and doesn’t ask too many questions. He accepts Preston’s job offer, believing he is entering into an honorable profession that involves the FBI. He will travel around with Preston from place to place, always on the go, driving stolen cars to wherever Preston wants them. He will, however, continue to sell Bibles.

In his travels, Henry meets a girl named Marlene Green, working at a fruit-and-vegetable stand in a little country town. He is instantly attracted to her, as she is to him. After a couple of dates, he decides he wants to marry her. That won’t be so easy, since he is a criminal and doesn’t know it yet.

One a brief vacation with his family, Henry introduces his attractive sister to Preston Clearwater. Preston is taken with the girl’s beauty and grace, even though he is about forty and she is considerably younger. (People say he looks like Clark Gable, with his stick-out ears.) The sister already has a fiancé, but she falls in love with Preston and is willing to forget about the boy she has said she will marry.

Henry always seems to be protected in life by his innocence and goodness, regardless of what criminal practices he is (unknowingly) engaged in. Life will be good to him because that’s the kind of book this is.

Clyde Edgerton (born 1945) is one of America’s best writers. His novels are decidedly “light” reading, but that doesn’t diminish their literary merit. They are breezy, fun to read, and beautifully written. When you see Mr. Edgerton, tell him I’m a big fan and have read all his books and most of them more than once.

Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp

Where Trouble Sleeps ~ A Capsule Book Review

Where Trouble Sleeps ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Clyde Edgerton’s Where Trouble Sleeps is an unserious novel about small-town Southern life, set in Listre, North Carolina, in the innocent year of 1950. The town of Listre is so small it has one blinker light at its main intersection. The houses, church and small businesses of the town are arranged in the four corners around the blinker light.

There’s an interesting story about how the blinker light came into being. I’m glad you asked that question. You see, there was this runaway mule that didn’t want to do any more plowing and, as it was running to try to get away, it collided head-on with a truck. Sadly, the mule was killed but the good part of the mule-truck head-on collision was that the blinker light came into being.

For such a small town, there are plenty of colorful characters to go around. There are the three Blaine sisters—Bea, Mae and Dorothea—who own a tiny store (they live in the basement underneath the store). They are three dedicated spinsters, but when Dorothea was 58 years old (she’s 70 when the action of the story takes place), she decided to marry a man named Claude T. Clark. The two remaining sisters think the marriage is a mistake and they don’t think much of Claude T. Clark because he wears a big diamond ring and buys a new Cadillac every year. Dorothea is secretary at the Baptist church and, since she has a sprained ankle, she decides to live in her office at the church, an arrangement that causes a certain amount of consternation among church members.

Train’s garage/filling station is a place for men of Listre to gather, swap stories, and stand around drinking Blatz beer. Train is paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, having been injured in World War II. Train owns a 16-year-old bulldog named Trouble who lives at the station and sleeps a lot. He infallibly predicts the weather by his choice of sleeping spots: if he sleeps inside, it will rain; if outside it won’t rain.

Alease Toomey is a respectable, Christian woman with a six-year-old son named Stephen and a no-account, alcoholic brother named Raleigh who causes her plenty of trouble. She doesn’t have a very happy marriage because her husband, Big Steve, works all the time and doesn’t pay enough attention to her. Alease is not above being attracted to the handsome stranger in town and flirting a little bit and maybe going even farther than flirting.

Cheryl Daniels is a pretty, nineteen-year-old waitress who lives with her parents and her younger brother named Terry. Whenever men see Cheryl, they want to stick around Listre. The Baptist minister, Preacher Crenshaw (fat wife and five children), has developed a very strong attraction for Cheryl and convinces himself he is in love with her. He must struggle with temptation the same way Christ did in the desert. When he writes a love letter to Cheryl (which he doesn’t mail), it’s seen by the church secretary, Dorothea Clark, setting Preacher Crenshaw up for some possible big trouble.

Into this morass of innocence and small-town respectability comes Jack Umstead (calling himself Delbert Jones), driving a stolen Buick Eight. Jack Umstead/Delbert Jones has trouble in mind and he’s definitely looking to score in Listre, one way or another. Might he accomplish this with blackmail or with out-and-out, old-fashioned robbery? He ingratiates himself to the people of Listre, even going so far as to join the Baptist church, but, of course, everything he tells them about himself is falsehood. He begins romancing Cheryl Daniels and establishes an ongoing flirtation with Alease Toomey. When he decides to rob the Blaine sisters’ store during a thunderstorm, he has probably taken on more than he can handle, or, as my mother would say, he bit off more than he could chew.

Southern writer Clyde Edgerton can count me among his fandom. He’s written about ten books, I’ve read all of them, and I wish he would write more. His last book, The Night Train, came out in 2011, so possibly he is finished writing novels. At age seventy-four, maybe he has decided to take a rest.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

Redeye ~ A Capsule Book Review

Redeye ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

The “Redeye” in Redeye is a dog. He belongs to a bounty hunter named Cobb Pittman. Cobb Pittman carries Redeye in a bag hanging from his saddle. Redeye has just one eye. The eye that he doesn’t have is red, making people think he’s some kind of a devil dog. He’s vicious when he needs to be, latching on to the nose with his teeth of any unfortunate animal that riles him. He can also latch on to the nose of a man if he wants to.

Redeye is set in Colorado in the 1890s, making it a “western.” There’s not much plot to speak of, mostly just a collection of quirky characters doing quirky things. In the small Colorado town of Mumford Rock, Billy Blankenship and P.J. Copeland are businessman and entrepreneurs. They have learned embalming in Denver, apparently in a very short time, and hope to open a mortuary parlor in the town of Mumford Rock. To show the dangers of a body that has not been embalmed, they arrange to have the body of a dead Chinaman “explode” at the train station. This will scare people, they believe, into viewing embalming as a necessity.

Near Mumford Rock are cliff dwellings that were occupied by Indians hundreds of years ago. The cliff dwellings are on a mesa, nearly inaccessible, so there are still Indian “artifacts” left behind. P.J. Copeland sees the commercial possibilities inherent in the artifacts. If he can mount an expedition that can bring back a lot of the artifacts, tourists will pay money to see them. Hold on a minute, though! The U.S. government already has plans for those artifacts. Wouldn’t you just know it?

P.J. Copeland and company have already brought back two mummies, one of a woman and one of a baby. His superannuated mother, Grandma Copeland, believes the baby mummy is one of her long-lost children and won’t part with it. Some of the more dimwitted of the bunch try to bring the woman mummy back to life by wiring an electrical charge to her heart (or the place where her heart would have been). It sets her on fire.

Star Copeland, niece of P.J. Copeland, is new to the West, having just come to Colorado from South Carolina after the death of her dear mama. She learns the ways of the West quickly enough and falls in love with a young, tubercular Englishman named Andrew Collier, who is in Colorado studying Indian culture. While cavorting with Andrew Collier, Star also fields an offer of marriage from an oft-married Mormon, Bishop Thorpe. (In the 1890s, the Mormons had to follow U.S. law on marriage, meaning one wife for each man.)

There’s a subplot in Redeye involving Mormons and the massacre of a wagon train of settlers from Arkansas that occurred in 1857, some thirty-five years earlier. A group of Mormons using Indian wiles attacked a wagon train of pioneers near Salt Lake City, killing all of them. Orders from Brigham Young, the Mormon leader, were to leave none of the settlers alive to tell what happened. One of the Mormons instrumental in the attack was a man named Calvin Boyle, who, all those years later, is living under an assumed named, Bishop Thorpe. (He’s the same Bishop Thorpe who proposes to Star Copeland.) It seems that the bounty hunter Cobb Pittman has been trailing Bishop Thorpe, unknown to anybody else, for years to make him pay for his part in the massacre.

In Redeye, Clyde Edgerton, one of my favorites writers, uses the literary technique used by William Faulkner to great effect in his novel As I Lay Dying, that of allowing each character to speak in his or her own voice. That makes for a fast-paced, entertaining, easy-to-read book. You can read this book without expending too much brain power and have fun while you’re doing it. What’s more fun than mummies?

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp