Tidewater Blood

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

When wealthy plantation owner John Maupin LeBlanc III and his entire family are blown to bits by a bomb during a family celebration in their lovely Virginia mansion, the eye of the local police falls immediately and exclusively on Charlie LeBlanc, John’s long-estranged, ex-convict brother who is living off the land in a miserable shack on a spit of sand on Chesapeake Bay. Despite the fact that the police can find no evidence to link the accused man to the crime, it still takes some clever legal maneuvering by his reluctant court-appointed lawyer before Charlie is grudgingly released. Despite an order to remain in town and to report to the police station every day, Charlie can see the handwriting on the wall—unless he finds the real murderer, he will shortly be railroaded back behind bars to face life imprisonment or perhaps even execution.

With the police hot on his trail, Charlie sets off on his own investigation. The trail leads him to the now-desolated West Virginia mountain coal mining region where his father reversed the Leblanc family’s failing fortunes during World War II. As Charlie explores this thinly populated economic dead zone, he meets a picturesque cast of characters—most particularly, an ancient mountain woman and a brassy but soft-hearted saloon keeper with a sad past.

Dark and confusing LeBlanc family secrets and a long-festering plot for revenge bubble to the surface as Charlie digs deeper and deeper into the story of his father’s life in West Virginia. The answer to the mystery of who wiped out John LeBlanc and his family—and how and why—is both surprising and bizarre, but nevertheless it has been well-prepared by the author.

William Hoffman’s writing is by turns lyrically descriptive and deeply penetrating as he paints his cast of characters and his two settings—the blue-blooded Tidewater region of Virginia and the hardscrabble West Virginia highlands. At the same time, never for a moment does he let the relentless forward movement of the plot take a back seat to his skillful, literate prose. The reader will be torn between lingering over each page and rushing quickly ahead to see what will happen next.