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The Devil Amongst the Lawyers
The heroes -and the villains- of the book are journalists.
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There are a few writers who can toss snake handlers, New Age hippies, NASCAR drivers, Baptist preachers and Cherokee ghosts all together and not pull a “Beverly Hillbillies” episode out of it.
Sharyn McCrumb is one of those writers. She’s made it her mission, really, not to. Her roots are in the south, as is her home, and she bristles – on paper and in person – whenever someone suggests a stereotypical Appalachia.
McCrumb, who makes her home in the mountains of Virginia (but travels all over the world to teach and lecture), released two books this year.
After an eight-year hiatus from her Ballad novels, she has returned with "The Devil Amongst the Lawyers," based on the story of Edith Maxwell, arrested for the murder of her father in Wise County, Va. in 1935. McCrumb changes the names while acknowledging the historic basis (and Sharon Hatfield's 2005 nonfiction account, “Never Seen the Moon”).
But Maxwell (renamed Erma Morton) isn’t the protagonist of the novel – the journalists who cover her trial are. One’s a hero of sorts: the earnest Carl Jenkins, out of Johnson City, Tenn.; others, from the big New York papers, are closer to villains, mainly there to sell their readers a story about a backwards Appalachia that doesn’t exist. But nothing’s black and white; the journalists have their own tragic back stories, and McCrumb explores a plausible and less sentimental version of what might have happened (the murder was never completely solved). In the end, the trial’s outcome is almost a footnote.
"Faster Pastor" is McCrumb’s third NASCAR novel, and she co-wrote it with Adam Edwards, a Virginia Tech MBA graduate and a racecar driver himself.
Originally she tapped him for advice and research while working on her second (“Once Around the Track”), and then she found out he could write. He learned how to write fiction along the way as they tag-teamed the book chapter by chapter, but the end result is seamless, funny and at times touching.
The plot: A washed-up driver is sentenced to teach a bunch of Tennessee clergy how to race. The winner, and his or her church, receives the $2 million estate of a recently released NASCAR fan.
Edwards and McCrumb are already working on their next project.
Stay tuned for a transcript of my interview with Sharyn and Adam, recorded for WVTF public radio, which will appear in this space in the next couple weeks.
More books by Sharyn McCrumb