Review: The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson

Title: The Secret of Magic

Author: Deborah Johnson

Published: FigTree: Penguin UK January 2014

Status: Read from January 20 to 21, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

In the Secret of Magic, the authenticity of historical fact blends seamlessly with fiction to explore the tragic murder of a young man and a woman’s determination to bring those responsible to justice.

In 1946 a young African American serviceman, Joe Howard Wilson, recently returned from the fighting in Italy, is beaten to death on his way home to Revere, Mississippi. A year later, his death having been ruled an accident, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in New York receives a letter asking them to investigate and lawyer Regina Mary Robichard travels to Revere to assess the case. What she discovers is a small town steeped in secrets, corruption and racism, and finding justice for Joe Howard may be asking the impossible.

As Johnson notes in the afterword, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund was founded by Thurgood Marshall and was America’s first civil and human rights law firm. The plot is in part based on the cases the Fund investigated, particularly the case of Issac Woodward, a returned African American serviceman who was on his way home to see his mother after his honourable discharge when he was dragged off an interstate bus by white police officers and beaten, blinded and jailed.

Johnsons character, Joe Howard, is beaten to death, and his murder is met with little more than a token investigation. Regina quickly discovers that every one in Revere knows who is responsible, but the few willing to speak up were ignored. As she gathers evidence, hampered by disinterest and intimidation, she uncovers more than just the secret of Joe’s murder.

The character of Regina Mary Robichard was inspired by Constance Baker Montley, the first woman lawyer hired by Thurgood at the legal Defense Fund. Johnsons’ Regina is a young African American lawyer, the daughter of a man lynched before her birth and a woman who subsequently became a rights activist. She can’t help but connect personally to Joe Howard Wilson’s case, and puts herself at risk in her quest for justice. I liked Regina a lot, admiring her courage and her sense of justice, though there were moments where the author couldn’t let Regina put certain things together for the purpose of the plot, which meant her skills were sometimes questionable.

I actually found the threads involving M.P.Calhoun’s novel ‘The Secret of Magic’ largely distracting though it is included in a way that makes it necessary to the plot. I did however appreciate Johnson’s complex characterisation of Mary Pickett, a white woman who is torn between doing the expected thing, doing the right thing and doing nothing.

Bigotry is the core theme of this novel, exposing the reprehensible attitudes of the times, that unfortunately still linger more than half a century later. And though the bittersweet ending edges closer to vengeance, rather than justice, it is also a story that demonstrates the possibility of change.

Thoughtful and moving, The Secret of Magic is a reminder of both how far we have come, and how far we still have to go.

Available to Purchase From

 PenguinAU I boomerang-books_long I Booktopia I via Booko I AmazonAU

PenguinUK I   AmazonUK I   AmazonUS I

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kailana
    Jan 25, 2014 @ 04:12:05

    I am really curious about this one. It isn’t really blowing anyone away, but it still interests me.



  2. Trackback: Deborah Johnson’s The Secret of Magic | Jorie's Reads by Starry Night Elf

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