My selection this week is Stuart Woods’ CHIEFS, his first novel, published in 1981. It won the Edgar Allen Poe award for fiction and was later made into a miniseries starring Charlton Heston, Danny Glover, John Goodman, and Stephen Collins.
The time is 1920 and the small town is Delano, South Carolina. Will Henry Lee is a failed cotton farmer, lost his farm(it is 1920), who takes a job as the town’s first police chief.
In a brutal winter, the naked body of a young boy, a teenager, is found. While there is no direct evidence of murder, the body shows signs of severe beatings. Though still learning the job of policeman, Lee goes about the search with a vigor and intensity, obsessed with learning what happened to the boy.
The story stretches for forty years, intertwining with the lives of two other police chiefs, one a murderer himself, the other harboring a secret that could derail a new political career.
All this is set against the drama of a small southern town growing up, overcoming the small hatreds, racism, a class system dividing poor and rich. CHIEFS is considered the first book in the Will Lee series, a descendant of the first chief, a man who eventually becomes the U.S.President.
This is my favorite of Woods’ books and I don’t mean to slight any of his other many works. Woods has a style that is eminently readable, flowing smoothly along. I can read one of his books in just four or five hours. You get so caught up in what’s going on that it’s hard to put down.
CHIEFS is easily available, still in print, with a hardcover twenty-fifth anniversary edition and a trade paperback. Mass market copies are readily obtained on the used book sites at reasonable prices. Well worth looking up.