Book Review: Sweetsmoke
Book Reviewed by Thumper
When I heard of the novel Sweetsmoke by David Fuller, I was intrigued. The novel takes place during the Civil War, 1862, at its heart lays a murder mystery with a most unusual detective, a slave. I am beyond impressed with the novel. I am ecstatic over it. Initially, I had my doubts about the realism of the storyline. Fuller made a believer out of me. The novel does not only contain a solid murder mystery, it serves as an excellent Civil War novel. Sweetsmoke is incredible. I loved it.
The novel revolves around a slave named Cassius, who is the
property of the Sweetsmoke Plantation and its owner, Hoke
Howard. Cassius is the plantation’s carpenter. Although the
carpenter’s position has its benefits, none of it makes up for
dehumanization and degradation of being a slave. Though Cassius
had it better than most of the plantation’s slaves, a slave is
still a slave. After a heart wrenching life changing event,
Cassius’s heart grew cold and hard. The only person Cassius has
any affection for is Emoline — a former slave now free black
woman. Emoline took care of Cassius body and soul after a tragic
happening nearly destroyed him and taught him how to read and
write. Upon hearing of Emoline’s death and discovering that she
was murdered, Cassius vows to seek vengeance on Emoline’s
I adored Sweetsmoke. The story is rich, nicely detailed and as smooth as glass. I became completely absorbed in the story. The narrative, the flow, character developments are solid. The narrative is plush and moving. The plot is interesting and captivating. I am not going to lie, I was caught up.
When I began this book, I wanted to see if Fuller achieved
the basic mechanics of a murder mystery in this particular
setting. The idea of a slave becoming a detective and actually
solving a murder, in the South, in the middle of the Civil War’
I did not believe it possible that this storyline could succeed.
I could not imagine how a slave would have the freedom to move
around to investigate anything, or interrogate anyone,
especially white people. The beauty of the novel and the
character Cassius is that Cassius solve the mystery by his
knowledge of human nature and common sense.
One of the shining moments of the novel, and there are plenty of shining moments in the book, is the fullness of the characters, principally Cassius. Cassius is a three dimensional positive black man. He is strong, smart, articulate, sensitive and wounded. Cassius has his faults, but he is real. I adored Cassius. I have not responded with such enthusiasm and awe of a black male character since King Tremain from Guy Johnson’s marvelous novels, Standing at the Scratch Line and Echoes of a Distant Summer. I would have loved this book on the character Cassius alone. Fortunately, there’s more to this novel.
The rest of the characters did not capture my imagination like Cassius, but they are equally as well rounded. Hoke Howard, his wife Ellen, and Quashee, a young woman who becomes Cassius’s love interest, are soundly constructed characters. While the characters are wonderful, it’s the interactions between the characters that kept me glued to the pages. Fuller showed the basic relationships can appear somewhat normal but not quite since they are all stained with the mark of slavery. Fuller explored the slave social and working hierarchy on the plantation and the social associations of the neighboring plantations slaves. The most captivating, complex relationship in the novel is the father-son type relationship that exists between Cassius and Hoke Howard. Fuller could have played it safe by sticking with the stereotypical roles, but he provided a deeper examination of the relationship, which was highly appreciated.
Sweetsmoke is excellent. The novel is beautifully written and flows smooth and quickly. The murder mystery was wonderful. The characters were fully developed with Cassius being the standout. The ending is bittersweet and realistic. I cannot say enough positive comments about the novel. I highly recommend it.