A Slant of Light, by Jeffrey Lent *****

aslantoflightSome great novels are painterly, and we sink into them like a warm bath, lost in a wholly different time and place. Others are hair-on-fire page-turners that leave us unable to do one single thing until the book is done. Lent has managed to combine both kinds into one brilliant work, creating tangible characters and a setting that is nearly palpable as well. My thanks to Bloomsbury Publishers and Net Galley for the DRC. The book will be released in early April 2015. The novel opens with a scene of horrible violence; think of The Shawshank Redemption, or of Deliverance. Then we walk the string back to see whence it all came, and we see it from a variety of perspectives. Only then can we move forward to the conclusion. Malcolm Hopeton has fought in the American Civil War, and refused to buy his way out of his duty to the Union; when he was wounded in action, he could have gone home, but chose to stay and stamp out the Confederate threat instead. Had he known what was happening at home, he’d have chosen differently. Witness to the violence at Hopeton’s farm and all that preceded it is Harlan Davis. Harlan has been there since the death of his parents, first as orphan helping out to earn his keep, and then later as hired man. In fact, once the other players are dead or in jail, Harlan is the only one who has seen absolutely everything…and he isn’t talking. August Swartout, the widowed farmer who has hired Harlan’s sister as a housekeeper since the death of his wife, sees it as his Christian duty to bring Harlan back to his place after the dust has settled. He tries to do the right thing, but life is complex, and sometimes that choice can be fraught with little traps and riddles. Ultimately, A Slant of Light is about integrity, honesty, and loyalty. Ask Harlan. He knows. He may not say much, though. I was interested to learn that “The Friend” refers not to Quakers, but to a religious offshoot that took root during this time period. It’s an interesting historical tidbit, along with a great many other details that appear to drop into the story as naturally as can be, yet had to require meticulous research before it could be written. I have written over 700 reviews between one place and another, and this is the first time I have ever said that a book would be a good choice for a book club. I kept finding myself with questions and no one to discuss them with. It’s a fascinating story, and the ambiguity within makes it all the more so. Get it in hard cover, paperback, digitally; get it in a brick and mortar bookstore, order it online, or seek it out at a library; but if you like strong historical fiction, you have to read this book. Tautly worded, yet lushly descriptive; brilliant.

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