A strange time for letters
By Robert D. Rice II
Here are five fast-moving short stories that offer a delightfully humorous and insightful view of famous events in American history.
The letters in this book were never meant to be read…
Burn Marks by Robert D. Rice II is a collection of five short-read historical fiction stories. All the stories are based on factual events — from Harriet Tubman's Underground Railroads to a gruesome murder of a fourteen-year-old boy and the assassination of President Kennedy.
I was familiar with the history behind several of the stories, and I have to commend Rice for giving these well-documented cases fresh eyes. The narrative is incredibly fast-paced, and the stories certainly entertained. Rice does have a wonderful turn of phrase, and there is some rather excellent writing to be found within the pages of this collection.
The first book in this collection is Deja’ Blue. This story is about the murder of fourteen-year-old school boy, Bobby Franks. Based on true events, Deja’ Blue follows the murder of Bobby and the subsequent trial of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. Rice also adds a third suspect to this hideous murder. Rice has carefully reconstructed this story without being overly graphic or complicated. The narrative is fresh, fast, and fascinating, but like the case itself, there are a lot of unanswered questions — who did it? And more importantly, why? I thought Deja’ Blue was a great story to start this collection with.
I was equally intrigued by the second book, Ethel—letters of innocence, which follows the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Ethel is a young woman with so much promise when we first meet her in this story. Rice documents Ethel's life through snapshots and letters to Santa. It ended with her death at Sing Sing Prison in 1953. This was certainly an interesting story and one that I would have liked to have had a little more depth. But as the author had intended, these stories are quick reads, that pique the curiosity and leave you asking for more.
In The Jumper, Rice propels us back to 1971. The Governor’s plane has been hijacked — the question is, by who? Siobhan Mello finds herself a suspect as this frightening event plays out. Again, this is a wonderfully captivating story. There is enough tension and action to keep a reader gripped. There is also good use of word-building and the narrative flowed nicely.
Southern air just feels better in The Conductor. I think this was my favourite book in the collection. It is filled with drama and intrigue. Miles is a drunk, a disappointment, and an adulterer. He has no seemingly redeemable characteristics. Miles has no intention of serving in the Confederate Army but instead takes a job as a bounty hunter — capturing runaway slaves. But a chance encounter in the street changes his life and his perception forever. Miles is in all ways deplorable, but despite appearance, he becomes a hero. As a character, Miles seemed to grow throughout this short-story.
We are pushed forward in time to 1963 in The Fort Worth Star. This time the letters are addressed to Rose Kennedy. The Fort Worth Star takes a look at Marguerite Frances Claverie Oswald reaction and subsequent actions on the day when JFK was assassinated. This short read held my fascination throughout and once again asks the question — who really killed JFK?
The stories within this book are told by various viewpoints. There is a certain amount of head-hopping in this book which was at times a little distracting, but it took nothing away from the stories themselves.
Rice has a skill for crafting very intriguing characters and asking what-if questions, which I found rather refreshing. Burn Marks is one of those books that is perfect for pulling out on a quick coffee break. The stories are short enough to enjoy in one sitting.
I Highly Recommend.
Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.
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