Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County

Derek Berry
PRA Publishing (2015)
ISBN 9780984014279
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (03/16)

Article first published as Book Review: ‘Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County’ by Derek Berry on Blogcritics.

“Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County” is a riveting literary fiction novel by Derek Berry that portrays life in the small town of Lickskillet, South Carolina, in the aftermath of a vicious hate crime.

The victim is Francis Jameson, a prominent black politician who just finished his term as mayor. Jameson’s body is found in the most affluent part of town. He was brutally beaten and lynched. The suspect is Matthew Pepper, a man from a long line of blatantly racist family members, with known ties to a thinly veiled hate organization. Things promise to get ugly fast, and when the Pepper family cries foul, Roscoe Ostrander, corporate lawyer for the Knights of Southern Heritage is called to town for the trial.

Declin Ostrander is used to moving from town to town with his father. He is used to being the new kid, having to make friends, and acclimate to a new school and town. Declin and five other high school seniors seem to sludge through their senior year, desperately trying to survive death by boredom in this small town. As the kids plan a senior stunt to go down in the history books of Lickskillet High School, they unwittingly unravel all kinds of dirty truths about the town. 

The story is told through a variety of different viewpoints, the high school seniors, the Pepper family members, and the diary of a high school junior. I rather enjoyed this format; seeing the story unfold through alternative perspectives provides a deeper meaning and understanding of the plot. There are so many layers to this story; the hate crime seems to provide only the headline - the individual character stories really clinched it for me. I believe an entire book can be written about each of the high school seniors, as the depth of the characters and their individual storylines left me wanting more – much more. Everything from your normal “Who are you taking to the prom?” type stuff, to addiction, bullying, racism, social segregation, awkward romance, teen pregnancy, etc., – you name it, and these kids go through it.

The writing is phenomenal. Crisp and distinct, with no holds barred, Berry keeps the reader totally absorbed. From the unexpected and clever twists and turns of the plot, to the clear descriptions of each setting, he tells it straightforward. The story is slathered with unmistakable wit that often caught me off guard, and enjoyably so!

"Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County" by Derek Berry is a story that I would probably read again. I am sure that wonderful little nuances would expose themselves, providing for even further entertainment. Fantastic story!

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