Cover image for Blood on the leaves
Blood on the leaves
Stetson, Jeff.
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Publication Information:
New York : Warner Books, [2004]

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390 pages ; 24 cm
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In the 1960s, racism was rampant in Jackson, Mississippi, and it was common for white men caught in the act of killing blacks to be acquitted by all-white juries. But 40 years later, someone is seeking justice; those same men are turning up dead - in the identical manner in which they killed their victims. Now, James Reynolds, who has overcome the odds - and his own personal demons - to become the only black prosecutor in Jackson, will face the toughest case of his life: He'll have to prosecute prime suspect Martin Matheson, a brilliant professor, the son of a venerated Civil Rights leader, and the newly appointed folk hero for thousands of African Americans hungry for retribution.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Professor Martin Matheson's ardent belief in justice being served on those who were wrongly acquitted of hate crimes during the civil-rights era has put him on the political hot seat, but his Mississippi students support him unequivocally. When two notorious racists are found murdered, all signs point to Matheson, the most damning evidence being that both victims' names appear on a list Matheson compiled detailing free men who have committed heinous acts. James Reynolds, the only African American attorney in the DA's office, is assigned as lead prosecutor, clearly a calculated move on the part of his politically driven boss. The case stirs up a public debate about the appropriateness of taking the law into one's own hands when the system fails. Reynolds himself fights this dilemma internally even as he vigorously prosecutes the accused. First-novelist Stetson handles the central moral question with something of a heavy hand, but he does lay out both sides of the issue clearly, and he skillfully develops a suspenseful story. Expect interest, fueled by the volatile subject matter. --Mary Frances Wilkens Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Stetson's first novel gets off to a provocative start: in contemporary Mississippi, charismatic African-American professor Martin Matheson polarizes students and the larger Jackson, Miss., community with his incendiary lectures about lynchings and other atrocities inflicted by local whites upon local blacks at the height of the struggle for civil rights. The inclusion of graphic photos in the lectures, as well as the names and addresses of the unpunished perpetrators, sparks controversy and a spate of revenge killings of the identified men. On this riveting premise, Stetson builds a thriller cum social commentary cum character study, anchored in a courtroom drama. In this, the book resembles nothing so much as a (very good) episode of Law & Order, with a controversial issue depicted in broad, compelling strokes and examined from a number of vantage points. Because blood evidence links Matheson to the killing of unrepentant racist Earvin Cooper, he's tried not for inciting murder (as seems likely) but for murder itself. Prosecuting Matheson is a meticulous and well-respected black deputy district attorney, James Reynolds, who, caught in the middle of the larger ethical debate, becomes the novel's moral center. Todd Miller, venerable white liberal past his courtroom prime, defends Matheson, who takes the strategic lead in his defense. Miller and Reynolds have often faced each other before, but never in a case like this. Reynolds has a rough time in court, and a rougher one outside, under siege for the first time in his life by members of the black community. Stetson's sharp storytelling pushes buttons as skillfully as Matheson's lectures in this promising debut. (July 7) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In his first novel, African American playwright Stetson (The Meeting) offers a gripping study of the consequences of racism in the United States. Martin Matheson, a professor at a Southern college, teaches a course that identifies victims of racial hate crimes in the 1960s and the possible perpetrators who escaped criminal conviction. Matheson comes under immediate suspicion when a killing spree targets the suspected white perpetrators who were the subject of his class. James Reynolds, a black prosecutor, is assigned the case when the professor is arrested for the murders. During the trial, the story evolves from a murder mystery to an examination of the continuing question of justice versus revenge. In the end, the identity of the killer becomes less important than the ongoing psychological problems facing Reynolds, Matheson, and their families and acquaintances, as well as the social issues brought out by the class and the subsequent murders. Stetson does a superb job of transcending the basic story to create a thought-provoking book. Recommended.--Joel W. Tscherne, Cleveland P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.