In my ongoing quest to read every book I can lay my hands on written by central Appalachian Authors, I recently came across a wonderful work of fiction just released by a fellow one would not normally suspect to be a story teller.
The novel is entitled Clinch River Justice, by Alfred Patrick and the setting is 1930s and 40s in and around a fictional small town called “Creedy” located on Clinch River in the rural, southwestern-most corner of Virginia near eastern Kentucky . It is a combined murder mystery, romance and action-adventure tale laced with numerous, humorous anecdotes and filled with characters that I’d almost swear I’m kin to.
I don’t often run across books that I can’t lay down but this one kept me up turning pages for the biggest portions of two consecutive nights. I found myself dreading the end of the book, not because I was fearful of the outcome, but because I felt so absolutely at home between its covers. It is a rare talent, indeed, for writers to accurately capture Appalachian, culture, dialect and language in writing as well as it’s done in Clinch River Justice.
Too often writers wind up making a condescending mockery of the language and fools of themselves when they try. I firmly believe that one has to have actually lived the language to write it and the author of this book did just that.
Alfred Patrick grew up in the time and place of which he writes. A swinging bridge suspended high over the rushing narrows of Clinch River is central to the story as is a one-room, one- teacher school that he attended through fourth grade. Large groups of World War II bombers and fighter planes fly over the story’s hardscrabble farms on their way to fight both German and Japanese enemies. Is his formative years, Al worked those farms and saw those very planes. And, truth be known, he most likely experienced there, the joys and heartbreaks of first love so warmly described in the book.
The geographic terrain and the agrarian/mining/timbering lifestyles so vividly described in Clinch River Justice could just as easily have been eastern Kentucky and Creedy, Virginia could just as easily have been any town in Harlan, Bell, Pike or Letcher counties.
As I have previously said here, that Roberta Webb’s The Dark and Bloody Ground should be required reading for Kentucky seventh graders, Clinch River Justice should likewise be part of Virginia’s middle school curricula. Both are historically and culturally accurate and the stories are fascinating, delicious reading. They depict our mountain heritage the way our grandchildren need to know and learn it.
The reason that Al Patrick would not have been among my usual group of suspects for penning a work like this is largely due to the career he enjoyed for more than fifty years. With a Ph.D. in business administration from the University of Tennessee after completing under graduate and Masters Degrees at Bluefield College and Virginia Tech, respectively, he began teaching in 1965 in the Business School at Eastern Kentucky University. He later chaired and then became Dean of EKU’s Business School for several years before his recent retirement.
During his spare time, Al enjoys hiking and has completed both the John Muir Trail in California and The Appalachian Trail which runs through 14 states from Maine to Georgia. Al and his wife have lived in Richmond, Ky. since 1965 but they frequently “go home” to visit relatives on Big A Mountain in Virginia.
Clinch Valley Justice can be ordered for $22.00, including shipping costs, from my favorite little Bookstore, Heritage Nook Books, 8009 Main Street, P.O. Box 373, Pound, VA. 24279. Check out the website at www.heritagenook.com or call Brenda Salyers at 276-796-4604.
Or order directly from the author, Alfred Patrick, P.O. 2077, Richmond, Ky. 40476. Al says he can save you a few bucks if he simply hands you the book. You can make arrangements for him to do just that by calling him at 859-623-4209 or emailing, email@example.com.
Contact Ike Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org