Let's face it, some states are more evocative than others — take North Carolina. So many Americans of all ethnicities have ties to its cities and natural areas — the Appalachians, the Piedmont area, the coastal marshes and beaches. Wiley Cash, writer-in-residence at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, has written three exceptionally fine novels set in his home state ("The Last Ballad," "This Dark Road to Mercy" and "A Land More Kind Than Home"), all steeped in its multiculturalism, its murky history, its rapidly evolving present, its knockout natural beauty.
His fourth novel, "When Ghosts Come Home," lacks the power of the first three, but is a pretty darned good murder mystery that attempts, with some success, to examine the history of race relations in his beloved state during a certain era. Set in 1984, it's the story of Winston Barnes, a sheriff in a coastal county who is trying to find out who abandoned a cargo plane at a local airfield and killed a man whose body is found there.
The victim was Black and the son of Winston's friend, a Vietnam veteran who has a rifle and knows how to use it. Mix in Winston's history (years back, he fatally shot a Black man during a robbery), his cancer-ridden wife, his troubled adult daughter, a polite but mysterious FBI agent, an outrageously racist villain and a multitude of other colorful characters, and you have quite the page-turner.
If you can set aside the fact that the murder investigation is stunningly cavalier, inept and racist — perhaps they all were in the 1980s — the whodunit is mighty compelling. One not-minor complaint — the novel's title is a clichéd misrepresentation of the story it tells. Novel titles are powerful, and this one fails to represent the nuances of this uneven but still powerful novel.