“Decent People” by De’Shawn Charles Winslow c.2023, Bloomsbury $28.00 261 pages
It’s a small world, isn’t it?
Someone you’re acquainted with knows your old roommate’s former girlfriend, who used to work in your building, but is now married to your aunt’s babysitter’s brother in Tupelo. Yeah, it’s complicated and in the new novel, “Decent People” by De’Shawn Charles Winslow, it’s twice as hard to untangle.
Josephine Wright had been around the block a time or two.
In her 60s, she’d been married and divorced twice and she’d had her share of affairs, but she never met a man quite like Olympus “Lymp” Seymore. She could see his heart, and Lymp was a good man. Yes, he could lose his temper, but he wasn’t like that and there was no way he could have killed his half-sisters or his half-brother like folks say he did.
It was 1976, and Jo had just moved to the small town of West Mills, North Carolina. She didn’t know a lot of people there, but she was about to. Somebody had to clear Lymp’s name, because the local sheriff sure wasn’t going to do it.
Eunice Loving should have kept her mouth shut.
But no, she had to go and have an argument with Dr. Marian Harmon, whose idea of therapy for Eunice’s son, La’Roy, was to have him beaten up by Savannah Russet’s boys. All Eunice wanted was for La’Roy not to be gay, and Marian said she could fix him. Eunice had words with Marian and now Marian was dead. People said Lymp did that, and people liked to whisper.
Lovely blonde-haired Savannah Russet wanted to raise her boys in the town where she grew up, but her racist father never stopped making that hard. He figured that Savannah’s mistake was falling in love with a Black man; having children by him was even worse. And so, Ted Temple had written Savannah out of his will — partly because his Mama insisted on it.
But few knew the truth: Ted had been sleeping with Marian Harmon for years.
At one point in this novel, author De’Shawn Charles Winslow mentions that there are about a thousand people in the small town of West Mills.
Seems like you meet them all.
But here’s some help on that end: Pay them no mind, most of them don’t matter here. “Decent People” is overpopulated, but it’s really mainly about a triple murder and a handful of characters, every one of which is a sleuth and any one of which could be the killer. Still, this really isn’t a mystery novel: while the stories revolve around the killing of three siblings, the whodunit seems secondary, as the finger-pointing and crime-solving happen mostly through gossip.
And Winslow’s characters do like their gossip.
And that’s also where the fun lies: watching the small-town mechanics unfold with a bit of dark humor kind of almost makes you wish the book wasn’t going to end. Running out of pages in “Decent People” and having to leave West Mills feels like a let-down after immersing yourself in this wonderful small world.