Joe McGrath and Sam Rucker, the crime-fighting, prejudice-battling duo from Alabama, are back in Waights Taylor Jr.'s Touch of Redemption. It's an entertaining detective novel set in the Jim Crow south of the 1940s written in the deadpan style of James M. Cain.
Taylor was born and raised in Birmingham, Ala., but now lives and writes in Santa Rosa. Before becoming a writer, he worked for 24 years in the aviation industry and then 22 more years as a management consultant.
His first book, Alfons Mucha's Slav Epic: An Artist's History of the Slavic People, was published in 2008. His award-winning book, Our Southern Home: Scottsboro to Montgomery to Birmingham—The Transformation of the South in the Twentieth Century, was published in October 2011. Next came more awards with his novel Kiss of Salvation: A Joe McGrath and Sam Rucker Detective Novel, published in 2014.
Enjoy this excerpt from Touch of Redemption.
'SAM MEETS MONTEVALLO'
Tuesday—February 17, 1948
Joe drove from Adam's building back to his mother's. He wanted to see if he could get in touch with Archie Hamilton. He looked through the local phone directory and found his number.
"Shoal Creek Farms and Stables. Archie Hamilton speakin'."
"Mr. Hamilton, this is Joe McGrath. I'm the son—"
"Well, I'll be goddamned. I knows who you are, Joe. Elizabeth and Peter's son, right?"
"Yes, sir, that's right."
"Whatcha doin' in Montevallo? No more sirs. Call me Archie."
"I live in Birmingham, Archie, where I worked for years as a homicide detective with the police department. I recently left the department and opened a private detective agency."
"Good plan. You don't gotta work for that dimwit Big Bob Watson. What an asshole. You down this way workin' on a case?"
I'm liking this guy already, Joe thought. "Yeah, and visiting my mother as well," he said. "I'm trying to learn more about my dad's murder years ago."
Archie said nothing. Joe could hear him breathing.
Archie finally said, "Very interesting. Peter was one of my best friends. I was distraught over his death. Anything I can do to help you?"
Joe heard a distinct change in Archie's speech. He no longer spoke with a pronounced Southern drawl, and his grammar was perfect.
"If you have time today, I'd like to meet and talk," Joe said.
"After I finish the morning chores, I have to come into town on business. Do you know Julie's Café on Main Street?"
"I've seen it."
"How about eleven?" Archie asked.
"I'll be there. Thanks."
Joe got to Julie's Café just before eleven. A few patrons gave him a hard look, as they did most strangers. No one seemed interested in talking to him.
He ordered a cup of coffee and was sipping it when a man you couldn't ignore walked into the cafe. Probably in his fifties. But it was his height, about six-foot-four, which first caught Joe's eye. Solid as a rock, he reminded Joe of Sam. He wore clean but well-used blue coveralls over a collarless cotton workman's shirt, and a pair of scruffy boots. His gray hair fell loose from a sweat-stained straw hat around a sun-creased face, not handsome but pleasing, except for the obvious chaw of tobacco in his jaw.
"Archie Hamilton?" Joe asked.
"Hiya, Joe. Figured that was you. Look like your dad." He grabbed a chair at the table and swung his leg over the top as if mounting a horse. "Say, do you know Stanford Ramsey? Bigwig in Birmingham. He's bought several horses from me. Haven't seen him in a few years. Does he still run the city?"
"Pretty much, and he's the city's biggest wig. Yeah, I know him. He doesn't realize it, but he helped me solve a murder case recently."
"I reckon Stanford can't help you down here. So you've come to town to nose around concernin' Peter's murder? Long time ago."
"Yep, most folks won't talk or have little to say."
Archie turned his head to the left and leaned over a spittoon, and let loose with some tobacco juice. "Not surprised. Probably more skeletons in the closet than we can imagine."
"What do you remember about it?"
"Mostly how much I miss your father. Like I told you, he was a good friend. Honest and trustworthy to a fault. But he didn't realize the hatred that swirled around him."
"Did you attend any of his last days in court?"
"Yes, a few."
"Dad tried to call a hostile witness his last day in court. Were you there?"
"Do you know who the hostile witness was?"
"No. But mighta been Karl Merkel or Wilson Riley. Both are dead. Karl was the Piggly Wiggly store manager. Maybe Klan. Wilson, a service station owner, had a racist chip on his shoulder as big as an oak tree."
Joe couldn't help laughing. "Nice metaphor." His gut told him that Archie was holding back, just throwing him crumbs. He decided it best not to press him. Maybe later. Continuing to make light of the situation, Joe smiled and added, "So the identity of the hostile witness is a big mystery?"
Archie smiled back. "Yep. I guess you got a mystery to solve, private detective," he said, emphasizing the word private. "Excuse me, I gotta go to my next appointment."