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"McGlothin creates a sizzling slice of life in 1947 . . . He weaves convincing historical elements into a fast-moving caper."
-Publishers Weekly on Ms. Etta's Fast House
In the early spring of 1955, money sprang up from the ground for those who knew where to dig. Lively music commingled with cheerful chatter and cigarette smoke in the sprawling antebellum plantation home called Twin Cedars. The tables were hot and the beer was cold at Rudolf’s illegal gambling house, which was reeling in more money than his famaily’s cotton crops ever did. Six nights a week, the eight-bedroom gaming station in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, was open for business. Locals fluttered in, most of them from New Orleans. The allure of chance and fast times attracted blue bloods steeped in old money and pretenders who didn’t belong. Odds were always with the house. Only fools bet otherwise.
It was nearly half past midnight when Ivory “Bones” Arcineaux’s winning streak turned on him like a woman he’d done wrong. He’d had his heart set on breaking the bank when he stepped through the door in a dapper white tuxedo jacket and a fistful of money. Before Bones knew it, the wheels of misfortune relieved him of his wishful wad along with any chance of draining the bank. Nearly empty pockets relieved him of any hope to break even.
“Blackjack dammit!” Bones cursed, saliva gathering at the corners of his mouth. He tossed his fifth shot of gin down the back of his throat then wiped his sweaty forehead with a silk handkerchief from his breast pocket. “I’m goddamned due for a goddamned blackjack! Dealer, you ain’t worth a two-bit hooker and a dry hump!” Bones yelped, shaking his finger at the card shuffler. Despite how badly the gambler wanted to believe he was entitled to the Twin Cedars brand of entertainment, he wasn’t.
“Hey, pal,” a man’s voice whispered sternly. “Take it down a notch.”
“Get lost!” Bones snarled before discovering the bouncer with the soft voice was twice his size.
Two hundred and fifty pounds of muscle grimaced irritably. “That’s it, pal, I warned you!”
“Oh, oh… hold on now,” Bones grunted repentantly. He stumbled from the table with both hands raised then scooted out onto the broad cement veranda fearing a sound thumping. At age twenty-three, Bones didn’t appreciate the thought of getting reprimanded like an unruly child. Embarrassed to the point of making a stupid move, he clenched his teeth. “You wouldn’t be doing this if I had a silver spoon hanging out of my ass,” he griped. The bouncer looked through him as if his words didn’t warrant a response.
After a fleeting thought to pick a fight sailed past, Bones sneered at the gargantuan man as he casually strolled back inside the mansion. “If you wasn’t such a big hairy ape, I’d give you a run for your money,” Bones ranted hastily, once his adversary was gone. “And if you wasn’t…” he began to say, until something odd beckoned him to take notice. Bones witnessed a black man in a red valet jacket, the same man who’d been casing the joint through the window, sliding in and out of parked cars on the side lawn. While he didn’t consider a black valet with unlimited access to the white customers’ automobiles all that unusual, the way he went about it was. Bones studied him, rambling through one glove box after the next. He didn’t seem to be taking anything. Instead, the valet appeared to be jotting notes on a small tablet. “Hey, you! Hey! What gives, Slick?” Bones inquired with a healthy dose of suspicion. He was surprised when the black man, about his age, looked up nervously then gazed back with a blank expression. “Hey, come over here,” Bones ordered. “Come on, I ain’t gonna make trouble for you.”
The lanky, dark-skinned man huffed as if bothered by Bones’s demand as much as by his presence. “Yessuh,” the valet answered, obviously annoyed by the interruption. Reluctantly, he sauntered closer to the elevated cement porch, pushing the small tablet he’d been scribbling on into his back pocket. After sizing up the dapper fellow on the veranda, the valet was sure of a few things right off. One, the bossy white man swaying on that porch was drunk. Two, he didn’t try to conceal his suspicions of foul play. And three, his attempt at bullying the Negro failed miserably. While staring at Bones without trepidation, the car attendant’s eyes wandered over him vigilantly. Bones’s pasty skin and rusty red hair had the valet pondering a thought he dared not voice, just in case his assumptions were wrong. The gambler’s outfit was stylishly tailored and his two-tone shoes appeared to be handmade. However, in the pale moonlight, the valet couldn’t conclude with any degree of certainty whether the man who’d stopped him from carrying on with his business at hand was colored and passing for white or a white man with the worst head of cantankerous hair in Louisiana. Before he could mull it over any further, the wind seemed to howl out loud.
Suddenly, the nearby bushes rustled. The white man on the veranda staggered to the edge of it and peered out into the distance. His bloodshot eyes widened when he couldn’t believe what they saw. “Oh, man, it’s a raid!” he griped, then dove into the back of a brand-new turquoise Chevrolet convertible. “Grab baits, the jig is up!” Bones shouted. When a swarm of dark-suited federal agents ascended on the mansion like ants at a church picnic, he slouched down on the bench seat to hide. “Are you lame in the head, man? Git to gittin’ so we don’t get pinched with the rest of these suckers.”
“Sounds good to me,” the valet answered back. He swiftly leapt into the driver’s seat, snatched a set of keys from the sun visor, and nervously started up the engine. As the government agents cast a dragnet to snare the houseguests, the colored man mashed down the gas pedal. The fancy car kicked gravel in every direction. Clouds of thick dust rose into the night air as the whitewall tires spun furiously. Within seconds, that flashy convertible glided across the neatly manicured lawn like it was skating on ice. Agents hollered and sputtered when the car fishtailed, heading toward the back of the estate.
“Git gone, boy! Git gone!” Bones cheered. “Whoo-hoo!”
Bones’s getaway driver dodged a bevy of police cars moving in to surround the parking lot. He sped through the back pasture and onto a farm road, praying the lawmen were too busy rounding up Rudolph’s high-toned crowd to chase down a nobody Negro and his liquored-up passenger. When it appeared the coast was clear, the rattled wheelman flicked a wicked glance over his right shoulder. His heart pounded like a deep bass drum while the man in the backseat cackled riotously.
“Hey!” the driver yelled. “I’m glad one of us thinks almost getting nabbed is a hoot. Seeing as how this here was your idea, you mind telling me where we going?”
Bones eased back against the leather upholstery to catch his breath. “Huh? Oh, home, James,” he replied with a hearty yawn. “Make a left at the next fork and then keep on the back roads for about six miles. When you come to the bayou, take the bridge toward town. Wake me up when we hit Canal Street.”
Studying the rearview mirror, the valet frowned angrily. “That rusty-headed skinflint sure do bark out orders like a white man,” he said under his breath. “I’ll grant him that.”
For three miles, the brand-new convertible floated along the dusty unpaved pathway. Dense fog began to rise from the marsh as the Chevrolet rounded the bend. The colored man stopped the automobile to survey a crusty patch of southern Louisiana he hadn’t set eyes on before. He raised himself up to sit on the top of the front bench seat. Herds of mossy trees cast a canopy over the road, stifling their path. Other than the high-beam lights shining straight ahead, pitch-blackness seemed to be closing in. Bullfrogs bellowed in the distance. Crickets chirped insistently. The scene was eerily unnerving, even for a backwoods country boy. When the driver considered turning the automobile around, he glanced at the passenger, who was asleep, stretched out, and snoring like a three-hundred-pound baritone. “I can’t see up ahead through this swamp gas, mistah,” he admitted wearily. “This can’t be the way you told me and I can’t hardly make out the road or nothing.”
“Stop bothering me now,” Bones mumbled slovenly. “Just keep straight and make a left. Hurry up. Be quick about it. I’m hungry and…” he added before falling off to sleep again.
The valet shook his head. His eyes darted back and forth across the field of uncertainty stretched out in front of him. “This some bullshit,” he smarted back, “got me out here in the middle of nowhere. I’d be a might better off going to jail.” He grunted and huffed, easing his skinny butt back down into the front seat. “Hell, I might as well go on up yonder another mile or so, but you got to wake up, mistah. Mistah?” he called out again, only to be answered by another chorus of snores and snorts.
Against his better judgment, the colored driver followed Bones’s instructions to the letter. He kept on up the road then took the first left he came to. It wasn’t long before he realized that was his second mistake; agreeing to go along with the irritating gambler was the first. “Ohhh, mistah? Missstaaah!” he yelled, clutching the steering wheel with both hands as the shiny convertible sailed off a wooden embankment. The Chevrolet splashed nosefirst into a shallow pond.
Bones slammed against the floorboard with a powerful thud. His eyes flew open wildly. He craned his neck to peek over the rise of the back passenger-side door. “What’s the matter with you?” he complained irritably. “You done wrecked this fine classy car, and we ain’t even close to Canal Street.”
“Sorry I tore up your car, mistah,” the driver apologized halfheartedly.
“This wasn’t none of my car,” Bones quickly informed him.
“Good, ’cause I wasn’t really sorry.”
Bones panned the area cautiously. “You could’ve kept it dry, though.”
The black man casually untied his shoes then began to roll up his pant legs. “Oomph, tell me something I don’t know. You was the one who talked us both right into the middle of the damned swamp. It was you who got us dumped waist-deep in gator piss.”
“Yeah, but it was me who got us both out of those feds’ mitts, too, remember that?” Bones fussed.
“Yep, I do, and that’s why I’m willing to let it pass. Seeing as how I ain’t locked up in no parish jail tonight coupled with the simple fact that this here ain’t none of my damned expensive anchor parked in the water, I’m in a frame of mind to call it even.”
Bones shot a stinging glare at him before the man’s audacity forced a smile onto his thin lips. “Huh! Call it even?” he bellowed. “You’re some kind of different pal, some kind of different, indeed.”
“We’d better get out of this tuna can,” the valet reasoned as he balled up his red jacket and flung it farther out into the water. He sighed when he heard it splash.
Finding it a peculiar way to shed his uniform, Bones questioned, “What’d you do that for?”
“To distract the alligators whilst I make a run for it,” he answered, dipping one leg into the pond. “They’s out there and they’s onto us by now.”
After Bones watched his chauffeur’s quick jaunt toward the shore, he gulped then pulled a black long-barreled pistol from his belt. “Hey, fella, wait up!” Bones pleaded anxiously. “I’m allergic to alligators.”
Both men tramped down the dirt farm road en route to New Orleans and away from the stalled Chevy. Bones didn’t happen to see any bayou wildlife to speak of, but that didn’t stop him from following closely behind this headstrong Negro he was growing fond of. “Hey, fella, what’s your handle?”
“What’s your name?” Bones cackled.
“Name’s Hampton Bynote,” he answered rapidly with a tinge of French dripping from his tongue when he said it.
“A tough guy like you must have a street handle,” Bones concluded. “So, what do they call you?”
“They call me who I am. Hampton Bynote,” he answered again, failing to understand why he had been asked the same question twice.
“Okay, Hampton. That last name of yours, how you spell it, case I want to look you up later?”
“B-y-n-o-t-e. They say that there t near the end is silent.”
“They’re right,” the white man agreed. “That there t don’t say nothing at all. Where you from, Hampton Bynote? Wait, let me guess. Tremé, Backatown, Marigny?” Bones mentioned three of the four major neighborhoods where most blacks had settled in New Orleans.
Confused by his companion’s compulsion to chitchat, Hampton cut his eyes sharply. “ ’Round about Newberry,” he offered cautiously.
Bones’s smile returned when he heard that. He was familiar with the small farming community about fifteen miles west of town. “Yeah, I knew they grew tall cane in Newberry, but now I see they raise high-minded jigs with a keen sense of swagger, too.” He hadn’t noticed that Hampton was carrying two fists then. “Ahh, that’s it. Swagger, that suits you down to that t that don’t make a peep,” Bones announced with a great deal of pride. “My friend Swagger. How’d that sound to you?”
Hampton continued his lengthy stride in damp trousers, broken-in leather shoes, and squishy cotton socks. “How’d you feel about this jig thumping you down to the dirt?” he answered sharply.
“I’m sorry, I meant no offense. I thought we’re friends or at least on the mend,” Bones said, smooth and regretfullike. “What you say we forget it and let bygones be bygones?”
“Don’t matter to me. I don’t plan on setting eyes on you no more after tonight. I’m done with you, mistah. Ever since you called on me, feels like I stepped in quicksand.”
“No, no, don’t say that, Swagger. No way,” Bones fussed. “I found you and I’m keeping you, as a friend, I mean. There’s a ton of money to be made in Nawlins. I’m all but certain that my know-how put together with the tablet in your back pocket can help fetch us a pile of it.”
“All but certain, huh?” Hampton questioned. “I ain’t been all but certain about a damned thing since you dove into the back of that Chevy and started sparking loud for me to burn out of that lot. Only thing I do know is some kind of different fits you like a pair of broke-in shoes.”
“Who, me?” said Bones, shrugging his narrow shoulders. “No, I’m as regular as rain. Ivory’s the name, Ivory Arcineaux.”
Hampton eyed the man curiously then smirked. “I knew a fella once with the same name. What, a tough guy like you got no street handle?” he chided, using the same reasoning thrown at him earlier.
“Bones,” he said quickly, as if being quizzed. “People who know me best call me Bones.”
“Bones, now that suits you right fine.” Hampton nodded assuredly because of the man’s fair complexion. “Answer this for me, Bones. See, something I’ve been figuring on hadn’t added up since the minute you hollered down at me from that veranda back at Twin Cedars.”
Bones grinned knowingly. “Go ahead, shoot.”
Hampton stopped on a dime. “Like I was saying, I’ve been stuck on it so I hope you don’t take no offense. Can’t say I ever seen many men quite such as yourself. My question being… is you colored or is you white, ’cause I can’t rightly factor out either account.”
With a thorough appreciation for Hampton’s unabridged candor, Bones laughed before answering. “Swagger, the honest truth is, I’ve always found myself caught somewhere between the two.”
Considering the man’s answer carefully, Hampton nodded again, only slower than before. “Well, ain’t that something, you and me got the same problem,” he replied, guessing how the man’s unusual complexion must have drawn considerable unwarranted attention his way as well. Hampton extended his hand to seal their acquaintance. “I don’t like people trying to tie me down to what they think I ought to be, neither. Glad to know you, Bones. Glad to know you.”
Bones gripped Hampton’s palm then quickly dipped into a moneymaking proposition. “All right then, it’s like this. We hit a few of those spots you have written down in that book of yours before they get sprung from the clink in the morning. We split everything down the middle, minus my expenses, of course.”
Hampton had no idea what expenses were, but it sounded close enough to even so he agreed with a heavy disclaimer. “It’s a deal, but just in case you all breath and britches I’ma need you to hear me clear. If you ever crawfish on a caper we pull together, white man or not, it’s gonna get real gritty between us.”
Bones swallowed hard. He understood how deadly serious the Negro was so he took him at his word. “All right, and you can expect the same in return. Agreed?”
Excerpted from The Secrets of Newberry by McGlothin, Victor Copyright © 2010 by McGlothin, Victor. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted June 13, 2010
In 1955 in Newberry in St. Bernard Parrish, Louisiana, mulatto Ivory "Bones" Arcineaux and black Hampton Bynote meet in the antebellum Twin Cedars Casino, an illegal gambling house. They team up as cat burglars in the nearby French Quarter. Back in St. Bernard their occupation allows them the best of women as they can afford to indulge. That changes at the Funky Butt Dance Halls when Bynote meets and falls in love with Magnolia Holiday. However, their latest robbery goes bad leaving New Orleans Councilman Huey Boytte dead; killed by Bones. NOPD tries to prove the black partner did the homicide, but settle on a lesser felon that leaves Bones free and Hampton doing fourteen months.
In 1971, Hampton and Magnolia raise a family together as he has gone scared straight since being released from prison. He loves Magnolia and their two daughters. However, his quiet family world is threatened when his former cat burger partner arrives with a job for the two of the. With Bones also comes violent criminals and even nastier people who menace his loved ones.
The setting makes for a fabulous historical thriller that uses crime to enable the reader to compare two eras (near the beginning and near the end of the active Civil Rights movement). The audience sees how various subcultures perceive relationships in 1955 and in 1971 as Victor McGlothin purposely uses stereotypical beliefs to enhance the deep story line.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 14, 2013
Excellent book. I love the fact that the setting is in the 1950s and portrays how black people how to survive during the most racist times in our society. I could not put this book down - read it all day long.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 21, 2011
The beginning of the book is very engaging. Victor paints vibrant images of Newberry, Hampton, Bones, Pearl Lee and Magnolia. The story begins to go pale after Hampton moves back to the plantation. By the story's end, its a random hodpodge if unbelievable drama.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 23, 2011
Wow, what a story. I couldn't put this one down, it was so intriguing. I really liked Hampton and wanted to see everything turn out ok for him, even though he kept getting himself into trouble.
The story was really well written. Hampton is looking for something more than life on a plantation can offer a black man in the 1950s. Things seem to be going fairly well for him and then he meet Bones. Bones becomes Hampton's ticket to the life he wants while at the same time being the one thing that can take Hampton's dreams from him.
The story moves pretty fast, and at times I felt a bit too fast. Some things just seemed to me that they needed to simmer a bit more before coming to conclusion. There was a lot that happened in the story though and I think that's part of why everything moved so fast. Had it been a slow story it either would have been too long to hold my attention or it would have been missing so many pieces.
It was a pretty good story and I really enjoyed it. I really didn't want to put it down because I wanted to see how Hampton was going to get him (and his family) out of the binds that they've gotten into. While things don't always go the way Hampton planned he was pretty quick on his feet and was able to at least put band-aids on the situations that arise.
I liked Hampton and really wanted to see good things for him. I also liked Magnolia (Hampton's love interest). But I think my favorite character was Pearl Lee, see just seemed to be so level headed. Although she does have some moments when her heart takes over and she throws that level-headedness out the door.
A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. This is not a paid review and is a truthful and honest review.
Posted April 26, 2011
Posted September 30, 2010
Victor you have done it again! I very much enjoyed reading this story. The story line was great! I felt like I was there right along with the characters the whole time. Being from Louisiana made it that much more interesting and real to me. Job well done with the traditions of the people and places. I really enjoyed myself while reading this book. As always you just continue to amaze me how you put words to paper. Keep up the good work and I wish you continued success and thank you.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 11, 2010
Author, Victor McGlothin, penned an excitingly tragic tale of historical fiction hidden in The Secrets of Newberry. I found myself lost in the intertwined lives of slave descendants in the southern Louisiana bayou. The story of Hampton Bynote begins with a plantation boy that has migrated to the big city of New Orleans. Hampton's life is stricken by the desire for fast money until he meets his future wife, Magnolia. Hampton's desire is fed by heavy hitters in New Orleans, the main one being Bones, a reincarnated, sexually abused male.
Molestations of young girls and boys is the under current of the plot; such molestations are frequent, yet meagerly mentioned occurrences throughout the history of black America. In addition to this accurate historical account, McGlothin also captured the role of many in the black community such as musicians and witchdoctors. I was somewhat displeased with the abruptness in which Hampton's delinquent childhood was presented, but it did not severely interrupt the flow of the storyline. I recommend this book and hope to read more from this talented author.
Natasha R Hines
Posted July 4, 2010
Victor McGlothin's "The Secrets of Newberry" follows the friendship of Hampton Bynote and Ivory `Bones' Arcineaux. Their friendship is developed in clandestine predicaments of petty thievery up to murder with a backdrop of a changing economic climax through the late fifties, sixties, and early seventies in Louisiana . Therefore, the secrets revealed in Newberry reflect the nation's attitudinal changes in the role of women, social tension, predatory religious practices, as the Bynote family struggles from impoverished sharecropping to the desire and need to benefit from the changes taking place around them.
"The Secrets of Newberry" was an enjoyable read. I appreciate the time and depths of research that had to have gone into this novel to remain true to the time periods. The secrets ran deep, some were very harsh, but they were all true to the lives that characters like Bynote and Bones could/would have lived at that time.
I also think the Reading Group Guide provided in the back of the book was very well put together. The questions require answers that go below the surface and would make for a lively discussion for any book club.
Reviewed by: Gail
Posted July 2, 2010
An illegal gambling house brings Ivory (Bones) and Julian together. They become the best of friends and spend their time picking up women and living the high life. When Julian meets the woman he wants to spend his life with, he decides that it's time to make a change. But when Julian sees Bones kill someone, he is caught in a web, unsure of how to get out. Does he cover for his friend or does he turn his friend over to the police? Either way, he loses something and that something just might be his life.
This was an amazing book! Victor is a natural-born writer who knows how to deliver. It keeps you hooked from cover to cover.
Posted December 31, 2010
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Posted November 27, 2011
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Posted July 5, 2010
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