Book Talk: Sandra Brown, ‘Blind Tiger’
Prohibition! It was a piece of federal legislation (The Volstead Act) and a Constitutional Amendment (Amendment XVIII) that turned otherwise law-abiding people into scofflaws, moonshiners, and murderers. In “Blind Tiger” (2021, 501 pages), Sandra Brown, author of dozens of crime/mystery/romance novels, takes us back 100 years to Foley, Texas, a city besieged by operators of illegal stills, rumrunners, prostitutes, and scoundrels.
Thatcher Hutton arrives in town after jumping off a freight train to avoid a nasty confrontation with a number of other boxcar inhabitants from whom he won a bit of money, playing poker. Thatcher had a knack for “reading” people, and just as he knew when someone was bluffing, he also knew when it was time to get our or get hurt.
Having served in the 360th infantry regiment in Europe during WWI, he was on his way back to his old job on a ranch when he encounters Laurel Plummer, a widow who lives in a rural shack with her father-in-law. Although he continues on to town, having accepted no more than a drink of water from the woman, Laurel comes to occupy the central focal point in his mind throughout the book. Long-time fans of Sandra Brown’s would know that the brief exchange between Thatcher and Laurel is only a prelude to a far more complex relationship.
In town, Dr. Driscoll’s wife goes missing, Thatcher — the stranger who was seen speaking with her — becomes the prime suspect, except Sheriff Bill Amos is not convinced. There’s something about Thatcher that doesn’t sit right with the lawman. When Thatcher’s story checks out, Bill not only lets him our of jail but tries to recruit him as a deputy. However, Thatcher declines, taking a job breaking horses at a livery stable.
Meanwhile, Laurel inserts herself into her father-in-law’s moonshine making business. She uses the delivery of her delicious pies as a cover for the distribution of his moonshine. A smart business woman, she begins expanding the business to the point that it draws attention of both the law and her competitors. Thatcher is torn between being Sheriff Bill’s confidant (and sometimes deputy) and being in love with Laurel, a criminal. But it seems that nearly everyone, including the city’s mayor, is somehow involved in violations of prohibition or covering for those who are active in the business.
Thatcher becomes more involved with Sheriff Bill as a deputy, but he is still suspected by many as being the murderer of Mrs. Driscoll (whose body has yet to be found). People also wonder if he might be a government spy sent to uncover the truth behind the various crimes being committed, including the distilling and distribution of liquor.
Although Laurel has lost her husband, and later her baby daughter, she manages to shatter every stereotype of an early twentieth-century woman. She is determined to make a go of it on her own. As usual, Ms. Brown does a masterful job of telling a difficult story and keeping the reader turning the pages.
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Jim Glynn may be contacted at email@example.com.