“Engaging and well-researched”
In this historical novel, author Marc Curtis Little moves between present-day Newark and the mid-20th-century rural South, where Carrie Lacey, a young Black girl, finds ways to survive under Jim Crow laws and the constant threat of violence. In Newark, 95-year-old Dicie Caughman is a respected journalist and a pillar of the Black community. But when the police take her in for questioning—from the Women’s History Month luncheon where she is one of the honorees—Dicie reveals she is Carrie and has long kept her past a secret from everyone. The narrative moves between the present day and the protagonist’s youth as her story slowly develops. While the dual timelines make for a complicated narrative, Little manages to keep most of the threads from tangling, particularly through the distinct voices in Carrie’s and Dicie’s sections of the book. The author writes the Southern characters’ speech in a dialect that vividly captures the sound of the region. The novel is clearly based on both historical research and an intimate understanding of the emotional aspects of the Great Migration, and it does and excellent job of telling the stories not just of the individuals, but of entire communities as well.
An engaging and well-researched tale of Black life in the 20th century.
— Kirkus Reviews
“…will have readers ensnared”
In this stunning historical tour de force, Marc Curtis Little deftly examines the Great Migration—the decades long mass exodus of six million African Americans from the South to life in the supposedly better Northeast—through the eyes of a whip-smart teenage girl. Carrie Lacey is working for a bigoted, sexist bootlegger when, fearful for her safety, her father arranges for her to skip town. At 95, Carrie—who has been living under the alias Dicie Caughman and has become a noted journalist/publisher in New Jersey—is recalled to South Carolina (where she grew up and where there’s no statute of limitations), and put on trial for the murder of her former employer, Tommy Joe Butler, nearly eight decades earlier. But just when it seems like she might be convicted of the crime, an unlikely culprit emerges.
Little’s painstaking research on the decades covered in this story, from the 1940s to the present, is evident, and the narrative is clear-eyed about the scourge of racism. After Carrie’s father has a confrontation with a group of threatening white men, her mother and siblings depart for safety in another state; “the plan was that Daddy and I were going to meet them…that never happened.” Carrie is clear-eyed about power relations, too: “Though Daddy knew I was a learned young lady who commanded respect, he still believed that a male human was predisposed to do life’s heavy lifting.” The author pulls no punches in dealing with intense topics, from Carrie’s rape by Butler to the casual cruelty of Southern whites during this period. It will be hard for readers to remain dry-eyed as they experience the injustice leveled at the book’s Black characters.
Little also has a deft hand with plotting (particularly when Tommy Joe’s actual murderer is unveiled) and a talent for creating memorable characters, especially Dicie’s adopted grandson Baby Boy and her colorful lawyer, Louis Bilal, who scorns Dicie’s anonymous accusers by quipping, “I hope the rattling of their cheap dentures won’t be a distraction in the courtroom.” This outstanding novel will have readers ensnared from the first page to the last.
— Publishers Weekly BookLife Reviews
I thoroughly enjoyed the book
“A gift of high intellect…one of my favorite sentences in “The Bootlegger’s Mistress.” This gift is surely put to test as you read Marc Curtis Little’s seventh novel. Little, a gifted writer who uses good descriptive prose, births the main character as he carries her through tumultuous life experiences with an unexpected ending to a long but memorable road trip.
Spanning more than eight decades, “The Bootlegger’s Mistress” keeps you hopping from one moment to the next and back again. It starts out with the main character as a pre-teen during the early 1900s and follows her life to 95 years young. I say young because as she ages, it appears as if her life finds vitality. And did you notice I said ‘her’?
Little strays from his past novels to usher in a female lead character that breathes fresh air into his usual plot line soaked in machismo. And this lead character is not of the powder puff variety but is a strong, yet unassuming woman who is not afraid to take the next step…even to the point of unearthing old skeletons that could lead to her demise. This brings us to the heart of the story…a cold case…or as Little writes, a “frozen case” that returns to its southern roots after 80 years, heralded by two nonagenarians…our main character, and her lawyer who’s looking for that piece de resistance to finally close out a career that was second to none.
Little leads you on a journey, reflective of his writing style, that is steeped in historical facts and insightful observations that illuminate society and all its divisiveness. This time he adds the Great Migration, a period during the 1900s when millions of Blacks from the rural south uprooted their lives, sometimes at the last minute, and relocated to the urban Northeast, Midwest and West; in particular, to Newark, New Jersey, Little’s childhood home, which has been a constant in all his novels and continues in “The Bootlegger’s Mistress.”
Lies, cover-ups, money laundering, twists, turns, unwavering faith, and an illusion to the Underground Railroad take front and center. The characters tend to navigate the reader through the book and not Little himself, which speaks to Little’s ability to provide a sense of realism that connects the reader to the book. “The Bootlegger’s Mistress” might be met with resistance if for nothing more than Little’s strong use of southern provincial dialect, but Little gives an answer in his Q&A section of the novel.
Regardless of the resulting mystery that goes unsolved as part of the main character’s flight from her small, racist, white privilege with a white supremacist mindset hometown, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I look forward to the mystery being resolved in what I hope will be the next Little classic. I highly recommend “The Bootlegger’s Mistress,” especially to the reader who enjoys backstory as opposed to a reader who likes a chronological read with no interruptions. However, back stories in the “The Bootlegger’s Mistress” loan themselves intrinsically to the story line and provides continuity with plenty of enjoyable elements. Enjoy!”
— Phyllis Bell-Davis, M.Ed.
Retired media executive and Educator
An exciting read
“This was an exciting read and I thank Marc Curtis Little for giving us our story. Every one of our families has been on this journey through our time in America. Each chapter tugs at the reader’s emotions through suspense, separation, sorrow, pain, success, passion, joy, dignity and so much more. The Bootlegger’s Mistress is a powerful book on the tragedies of racism that every Black family knows too well.”
— Marsha Dean Phelts
Retired librarian, Jacksonville (FL) Public Library System
author of The American Beach Cookbook and An American Beach for African Americans
“The Bootlegger’s Mistress by Marc Curtis Little provides its readers an inside look at the all-too-many atrocities inflicted on Southern blacks by ruling class whites whose ignorance belies their humanity. For sure, it will be a compelling read for the many African-Americans and their families who were the victims of the land grabs, rapes and other belittling behaviors thrust upon them solely because of their race. While Dicie Caughman’s story tells of her successful escape from Tommy Joe Butler, her family’s nemesis, and her subsequent career as a newspaper editor, it is, nevertheless, a tale of great heartbreak, lost love and haunting memories of the past. Surprisingly, perhaps, Little serves as the voice of his main character, a female, quite an undertaking for a male author. But he more than meets the challenge. His book is both an eye-opener and a page-turner.”
— Barbara J. Kukla, Author of Newark Women and Newark Inside My Soul
Will keep you yearning for more
“Marc Curtis Little paints a picture with this book of South versus North, family love and connection versus separation, and young versus old. It is a story that is revealed like peeling the layers of an onion. You’ll feel the loss and heartbreak of Carrie Lacey/Dicie Caughman, but also her strength and determination. You will be crying with her when she says goodbye to her mother, siblings and sons. You’ll also rejoice when she returns to her original home and reconnects with the love of her life, one of her siblings and learns what happened to her father and the bootlegger. This book was a true page turner and will keep you yearning for more. This should definitely be made into a movie. Great job Marc!”
— Felice Franklin
Banking Executive, Jacksonville (FL), Founder of P.R.I.D.E. Book Club
“The Bootlegger’s Mistress is an extraordinary and emotionally gripping account of a young southern girl’s journey, interspersed with a wealth of information about the Jim Crow laws and the racial oppression in the southern U.S. that led to the great migration of African Americans. Marc Curtis Little’s technique of alternating the chapters between the past and the present makes the story even more intriguing as the protagonist’s memories form a crucial part of the narrative. A surprise ending and an emotional reunion will have the reader crying tears of joy and a feeling of love for the heroine of this story.”
— Harriet Gelman Casmas
Retired educator, Irvington (NJ) School System
Forked River, New Jersey
A must read
“Marc Curtis Little never disappoints. The Bootlegger’s Mistress, is a must read. The way he weaves historical events with fiction is masterful. Although I am originally from Newark, the book is very relatable. Marc delves into topics that have lessons for us all. BRAVO!”
— KP Carter, retired educator, Montclair (NJ) School System,
author of the Lizzie B. Hayes children’s book series
Union, New Jersey
Breathtaking and speechless
“A must read. I admit at first, I didn’t know what to expect. As I continued to read it became breathtaking and speechless.
Well-written and history that sometimes faces us today.”
— Rose Dill, Administrative Assistant
Anderson, South Carolina
I loved it!
“The Bootlegger’s Mistress is truly an American tale that can only be told through the experiences of those who were unembraced by their fellow Americans. What an amazing combination of historical data and a great storyline. So much information compounded within the book which can be the foundation of uncountable classroom curricula…all with factual African American history. Towards the end of my reading, there were joyful triumphant tears streaming from my eyes. Mystery, intrigue and victory! The Bootlegger’s Mistress covers it all and more. A heartfelt thank you for making sure that true, untold African American histories are now brought to light. I loved it!”
— Gwen Moten
Former Executive Director, Office of Arts, Cultural Development and Tourism
Mayor’s Office, Newark (NJ)
CEO, Theatre World Music Service, Newark (NJ)
An inspiring account
“In a context of impeccably researched historical fiction, The Bootlegger’s Mistress offers an inspiring account of a captivating protagonist who not only took on the Great Migration as the impossible challenge it was but was brave enough to seek justice, not just for herself but for her family name as well.”
— Anne Eliot Feldman
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