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Father's Law
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Father's Law

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by Richard Wright, Julia Wright (Introduction)

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Never before published, the final work of one of America's greatest writers

A Father's Law is the novel Richard Wright, acclaimed author of Black Boy and Native Son, never completed. Written during a six-week period near the end of his life, it appears in print for the first time, an important addition to this


Never before published, the final work of one of America's greatest writers

A Father's Law is the novel Richard Wright, acclaimed author of Black Boy and Native Son, never completed. Written during a six-week period near the end of his life, it appears in print for the first time, an important addition to this American master's body of work, submitted by his daughter and literary executor, Julia, who writes:

It comes from his guts and ends at the hero's "breaking point." It explores many themes favored by my father like guilt and innocence, the difficult relationship between the generations, the difficulty of being a black policeman and father, the difficulty of being both those things and suspecting that your own son is the murderer. It intertwines astonishingly modern themes for a novel written in 1960.

Prescient, raw, powerful, and fascinating, A Father's Law is the final gift from a literary giant.

Editorial Reviews

W. Ralph Eubanks
Posthumously released novels are published with great fanfare, but rarely live up to the hype or readers' expectations. On the surface, they seem to be packaged events for literary and cultural historians to dissect, rather than works of literature to be enjoyed. Happily, Richard Wright's A Father's Law, which is being published for the first time on the centennial of his birth, is not just a book for critical theorists, nor is it a book that disappoints. Like Native Son, Black Boy and Uncle Tom's Children, A Father's Law explores the inner conflicts and challenges faced by black Americans as they make their way through a society dominated by white privilege. It is by no means a perfect novel, and it has gaps in its narrative like other unfinished works. But what the book lacks in polish and gloss, it makes up for in the strength and pull of its story, which is surprisingly contemporary for one written close to half a century ago.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

The centennial of Richard Wright's birth occasions the publication of this still-unfinished crime novel, which Wright was working on when he died in 1960. Ruddy Turner, a black Chicago police officer, is appointed the police chief of a rich Chicago suburb, Brentwood Park, when the current police chief is murdered. As Ruddy settles into his office, a woman is found dead in the Brentwood Park woods, possibly the sixth victim of what we would now call a serial killer. Ruddy's son, Tommy-a brilliant but high-strung sociology student at the University of Chicago who makes Ruddy uneasy because of his difficult temperament-knew one of the murder victims well and has been "studying" Brentwood Park. In an atmosphere of mounting hysteria in town, Ruddy's unconscious cop mind begins to connect Tommy to the murders. Is it due to some Freudian rivalry between the father and the son, or to the facts of the case? The plot elements and dialogue in this draft are crude, and it's hard to say how the book would have been shaped out of its state of flux. A short introduction from Wright's daughter, Julia, speculates provocatively and notes how Wright brings race, class and family dynamics to bear on Ruddy's actions and thoughts, which he does brilliantly. (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Noted African American author Wright was working on this book shortly before his death in 1960. It is now being published for the first time by his daughter and literary executor, Julia Wright, marking the centennial of Wright's birth. Ruddy Turner is a black policeman who has just become the chief of police in an upscale Chicago suburb where there has been a string of murders. Turner is a conservative Catholic, with a devoted wife and a college-age son, Tommy, who seems disturbed and obsessed with the idea of crime. This is a psychological crime novel in which the police chief begins, with horror, to look upon his son as a possible murderer, but we never do find out if Tommy is really guilty or what happens next. While this unfinished novel adds to Wright's body of work, it will be more useful to school and college libraries for its literary merits than to the general mystery collections at most public libraries.
—Leslie Patterson

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
P.S. Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

A Father's Law

Chapter One

He saw the dim image of the traffic cop make a right-face turn and fling out a white-gloved arm, signaling that the flow of cars from the east should stop and that those toward the south now had the right of way, and at the same instant he heard the cop's shrill whistle: Wrrrriiiiiieee . . .

Yes, that was a good rookie. He had made change-over in traffic smartly, the exact manner in which the Metropolitan Handbook for Traffic Policemen had directed. The footwork had been perfect and that impersonal look on his face certainly inspired confidence and respect. That's the way a policeman should work. Well done, Officer, he mumbled in his sleep as the officer now did a left-face turn, again flinging out his flashing white-gloved hand and sounding his whistle: Whreeeeeiiiiiee . . .



"Ruddy! Wake up!"

Wrrrriiiiiieeeeee . . .

"Hunh? Hunh?"

"Ruddy, it's the telephone, darling!"

Wreeeiiieeeeee . . .


"It's the telephone, Ruddy!"

"I'll get it, I'll get it," he mumbled, blinking his sleep-drugged eyes in the dark and fumbling with the bedcovers. He sat half up and sleep rushed over him in a wave, seeking to reclaim him. "This rush-hour traffic . . ." He sighed, his voice trailing off.

"Hunh? Ruddy, are you awake?"


"Darling, the telephone!"

Wreeeeeiiiiiii . . .

In one stride of consciousness, he conquered his sleep and pushed his feet to the floor, reached out to the bedside table and lifted the receiver. Hecleared his throat and spoke professionally: "Captain Rudolph Turner, speaking."

A woman's sharp, crisp voice sang over the wire: "Ruddy, Mary Jane . . . Mary Jane Woodford."

"Yeah, Mary Jane. What is it? What's up?"

"Who is that, Ruddy?"

"Wait, Agnes. I'm trying to talk. Switch on the light."

"What was that?"

"I was talking to my wife, Mary Jane. Spill it. What's the trouble?"

"A message for you. The commissioner wants to see you at two o'clock," Mary Jane informed him. "So hustle up here. And don't wear your uniform."

"Two o'clock? Tonight?"

"Naw. This morning. It's past midnight now. And it's urgent."

"But what about?"

"I'm not the commissioner, Ruddy. You understood what I've said?"

"I got it."

"You sound like you were dead to the world."

"I was sleeping like a log. I was dreaming. I was coaching a rookie to direct traffic."

"Traffic? I bet it was flowing north and south! Ha, ha!"

"You dirty-minded gal!"

"Ha, ha! See you, Ruddy!"


He hung up and stared into space, vaguely aware that his wife had flooded the room with light.

"Who was that, Ruddy?"

"Mary Jane. The commissioner's secretary."

"Why in God's name is she calling you at this hour?"

"It's her duty, honey. I got to go in at the commissioner's at two . . ."


"It's morning, darling. It's urgent, she said."

"She shouldn't call you like that."

"She's doing what she's told."

"But she never called you before at this hour."

"I know. Don't know what this can mean."

"Didn't you ask her?"

"Yeah. I did. But she won't tell."

"Well, I never. You're a captain. They shouldn't rouse you out of your sleep like that."

"Something's up," he said, idly scratching his chest, vaguely sensing the vivid dream he had had fading from his mind. Was it the Maybrick case? No—that was settled. And don't wear your uniform! "She said I was not to come in in uniform."


"The commissioner's order, she said."

"That sounds fishy to me."

He turned and looked down at his wife's dimpled, peach-colored face, the deep brown eyes clouded and heavy with sleep.

"Now, Agnes, don't you be a little kitten and start scratching at Mary Jane. She's not trying to lure me out of the house for her sake . . ."

"I didn't say that," Agnes mumbled sulkily.

He glanced at his wristwatch; it was twenty minutes past midnight. He leaned over to his wife and lifted her head with his left palm and kissed her. Gently, he eased her face from him. "You go right back to sleep. I'll get dressed."

"When will you get back?"

"I really don't know, honey. Something's up. It's been years since I got a midnight call to come in . . . say, what's that?"


"That noise? Jesus . . . Tommy's typing. And at this hour. Doesn't he ever sleep?"

"He's studying for his exams, Ruddy."

"Goddammit, he's overdoing it. A boy his age ought to be sleeping."

"He sleeps enough. You'll call me as soon as you know?"

"Sure thing, kitten."

"And no uniform? Maybe they've got a plainclothes assignment for you and—"

"Naw. Those guys are a dime a dozen."

"Maybe you're being assigned to guard some bigwig?"

"Could be. But they've got hundreds of guys to do that stuff. And I'm the man who assigns 'em. Couldn't be that." He rose, yawned, and stretched. "I won't wear my uniform, but I sure will take my gat."

"You do that," Agnes said.

"I'll shower," he said, turning as a knock came on the door.


"Yeah, Tommy. What is it?"

"Come on, Tommy," Agnes called.

The door swung in and a tall, slender brown youth of eighteen poked his head and half of his body around the doorjamb.

"I heard the phone and heard you two talking," Tommy began.

"I'm summoned to headquarters," Ruddy said lightly, poking his feet into his house shoes. "You still up?"

"Cramming," Tommy said, twisting his lips in a self-effacing smile.

"You ought to get your sleep, son," Ruddy said. "When I was your age, I was either playing baseball or chasing gals."

"He knows what he wants to do," Agnes said.

"A big crime case coming up, Dad?" Tommy asked. He now showed his right hand, which held a smoldering cigarette. He lifted it to his lips and drew smoke deep into his lungs.

"Don't know, son. Got to report at two. Say, you look damned tired," Ruddy scolded softly.

A Father's Law. Copyright © by Richard Wright. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. <%END%>

Meet the Author

Richard Wright won international renown for his powerful and visceral depiction of the black experience. He stands today alongside such African-American luminaries as Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison, and two of his books, Native Son and Black Boy, are required reading in high schools and colleges across the nation. He died in 1960.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
September 4, 1908
Date of Death:
November 28, 1960
Place of Birth:
Near Natchez, Mississippi
Place of Death:
Paris, France
Smith-Robertson Junior High in Jackson, Mississippi (1925)

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Father's Law 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great story!!
DrPepperGirl More than 1 year ago
Wright died of a heart attack in the midst of completing &quot;A Father's Law&quot; leaving this masterpiece unfinished. I am no Wright expert but &quot;A Father's Law,&quot; I believe, was a different approach that Wright took to further express his views on themes like races, classes, social psychology, self-consciousness and etc. An African-American officer just promoted to be the police chief in an upscale Caucasian community in Chicago. While unearthing a series of puzzling crimes, he came to suspect his own son, who was interested in criminal psychology and studied sociology in university, could be the culprit that he was going after. Whether or not the chief's son was guilty or not readers will never find out. Despite the fact that the writing was raw, bear in mind this is a work-in-progress, Wright maintained his captivating and magical style in this manuscripts. Love!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've read all Richard Wright's books and this was a huge disappointment. The writing wasn't up to par and the plot rambled on way to long.