Riverhead Hardcover, 423 pages, $27.5
This is not a mystery.
In honor of Black History Month, here’s a recommendation: The Good Lord Bird by James McBride. It’s a wild, blackly (!) humorous, fictionalized telling of John Brown’s passionate charge to free slaves that ended in the Quixotic taking of the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. That was the signal event, historians agree, that ignited the Civil War.
Our cowardly (yet sometimes intrepid) and lazy (by his own account) narrator is ten years old at the beginning of the story, about four years before Harper’s Ferry. Henry “Onion” Shackleford’s father was shot by accident before his eyes by John Brown. In remorse and with the intent of freeing the “high yellow” Henry from slavery, Brown kidnaps and informally adopts Henry. But Brown thinks Henry is a girl because of his curls and his diminutive stature. Henry, thinking he will be safer that way, does not disabuse the great man of his assumption. Thus begins a rollicking, intense period when Henry/Henrietta/Onion has a front row seat to view some of the greatest events in U.S. history and to meet some of the greatest names of the era.
Good writing, good tale, Good Lord Bird.