Book Review: Cry Me A River
by Ernest Hill
Publication Date: May 01, 2004
List Price: $15.00
Format: Paperback, 304 pages
Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corp.
Parent Company: Kensington Publishing Corp.
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Book Reviewed by Thumper
I have said it before, and most likely, I will say it again, but there is no drama like family drama. With Ernest Hill’s Cry Me a River, I got exactly that…a dysfunctional family that came totally undone. Cry Me a River is multi dimensional journey of a father rebuilding a bond with his son and redemption wrapped inside a murder mystery. The novel is marvelous, simply marvelous. If I could have, I would have sucked this novel through a straw, burped, and with satisfaction written all over my being, exclaimed, now THAT was good!
Tyrone Stokes, former drug addict and absentee father, has returned to his mother’s home in Brownsville, Louisiana after serving time for shooting a man during a store robbery. Tyrone is clothed in guilt for the turmoil he sent his entire family through. He had not seen his wife, Pauline, or his son, Marcus, in years; his mother is in failing health; and one of his sisters resents the hell out of him. Unbeknownst to Tyrone, five years into his prison stint, Marcus was convicted for the rape and murder of a 15 year old white girl and had been sentenced to death. When Tyrone is told of Marcus’s fate and that his son has only 5 more days to live before his execution, Tyrone vows to free Marcus and restore the family that he nearly destroyed.
Cry Me a River moves like a house a fire. As well as being a mystery and highly suspenseful novel, Hill makes a political statement on the death penalty and shows the tragic toll drugs have on a family. Written in a simple and firmly beautiful prose, Cry Me a River almost had me crying out for joy.
As you all know mystery/suspense novels are my first literary love. I see these books as a battle between me and the author, as well as one between the hero and the murderer. With our hero facing insurmountable odds he fights onward to save the innocent. Why that’s the stuff of old movie serials and operas. The mystery/suspense aspect of Cry Me a River was soundly constructed and perfectly executed. Hill created Tyrone in just this fashion by placing plenty of obstacles in Tyrone’s path. As a brand new parolee, Tyrone can not travel where he wants; thereby, limiting his movements. Tyrone was under a time constraint to find the real killer, by having only to work 5 days before Marcus meets the needle; immediately establishing urgency and setting the pace of the story. And when some basic elements are thrown into the mix: Tyrone is a black man in the South; Tyrone’s drug addict past and people’s perception of him because of it; and his feelings about Marcus; Hill was able to build tension that was heavy. It hit me in the face like hot July humidity.
The family drama component of the novel was good and messy, just the way I like ’em. Due to Hill’s wonderful wordsmanship, I felt as if I had drawn up a chair and was invisibly placed smack dab in the middle of conversations where every word was saturated with emotions.
Hill captured my heart by perfectly writing the characters’ speech. It took me back to the childhood summers I spent with my father’s family in Georgia. The phrasing, diction, accents of the characters dialogue, all of it was on point. Hill brought out the melodic cadence of the region’s language. It is also worth noting that the white characters in the book talked in the same manner as the black characters. In other books and stories I have read, many authors have the black characters dialogue so heavily accented in Southern dialect, it is often unpronounceable and incomprehensible, while the Southern white characters speak the Queen’s English. I’ve always had a problem with that because I know it does not happen.
A few months ago, I was asked by Brian Egeston, did I know of any southern AA authors who are writing novels taking place today’s South? I had no answer. I soon became frustrated by the question because while I had read books by Bernice McFadden, Olympia Vernon, and a few others where the novel took place in the South decades before; I did not know of any writer that was writing about black folks in today’s South. Surely, there are stories to tell? I know not all of our fiction should take place only in the urban cities. For this alone, Cry Me a River came across my desk like an answered prayer because it is a novel that takes place, today, in the South. Talk about a true rarity, I almost could not take it. First Olympia Vernon’s Eden and Logic, and now Hill’s Cry Me a River. It was as if I discovered that a mirage turned out to be a real and sturdy. Cry Me a River is a true Southern African-American novel, a marvelously well written one as well. I can not wait for Hill’s next novel.