River Rising by Athol Dickson

Review By Nike Chillemi ā€“

Dickson writes with poetical grace, using the historical flood on the Mississippi River of 1927 as a backdrop. I delighted in reading this work with language that flowed like literary fiction while leading me into a complex mystery story. Significant issues are raised, questions asked.

Reverend Hale Poser, a black man with piercing blue eyes, leaves a high paying and respected position as chaplain in a New Orleans orphanage and travels to Pilotville, LA, where he takes a job as janitor in the Negro infirmary. Poser was an orphan and has reason to believe he will find out about his ancestry in Pilotville. His arrival makes a few in the town suspicious, including Dorothy Truett, a nurse in the infirmary, who it also attracted to him.

Under the wing of Papa DeGroot, a rich white businessman who built the infirmary, the Negro community has felt secure and largely untouched by the Jim Crow atmosphere pervading the south at that time. At the infirmary, Rosa Lamont agonizes with a breech birth until Hale Poser massages her protruding belly, turning the baby around. Baby Hannah is born. Some in the town see this as a miracle. Others fear the janitor is a flimflam man. Her parents rejoice and then the unthinkable happens. The baby vanishes. Both white and colored residents of Pilotville search the swamp and Hale Poser learns this is not the first baby to disappear. Baby disappearances have been going on for years. Reluctantly, Dorothy Truett takes Poser to the grave of a woman whose baby was stolen long ago.

Jean Tibbets, harbormaster of sorts, thought the troubles were over. Then this strange colored preacher came to town. Tibbets saw the janitor praying with arms outstretched near the white church, which made him uneasy. Now another colored baby has vanished. Was that coincidence? There are those in Pilotville who think this Hale Poser asks too many questions about the infants who went missing long ago. Some fear he’s stirring up all kinds of trouble. He asks why the whites and colored folk never worship together. Both the Negro and white preachers put him off, but he doesn’t quit asking. This reveals festering antagonism and resentment that is seldom voiced in Pilotville.

When all others except the baby’s father have given up the search for Baby Hannah, Hale Poser continues in his efforts to find the infant. As if baby snatching weren’t bad enough, then there’s a real nasty turn in the plot. As horrid as events become, Hale Poser’s spirituality and determination to serve God shine through. Was he a miracle worker? A prophet?

This novel got to me. As Hale Poser questions his own spiritual motivations, I had no choice but to look at mine. Athol Dickson has a unique and beautiful voice. The second edition of this novel has just come out and it is well worth the read.

About Nike Chillemi

Nike Chillemi has been called a crime fictionista due to her passion for crime fiction. She is a member of ACFW and the Edgy Christian Fiction Lovers on Ning. She was an Inspy Awards 2010 and a Carol Awards 2011 judge, She is the founding board member of the Grace Awards, a reader's choice awards for excellence in Christian fiction.

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