“Folksy charm, an undercurrent of menace, and an aura of hope permeate this ultimately inspirational tale.” —Booklist
From award-winning author James Markert comes a Southern tale of fathers and sons, young romance, revenge and redemption, and the mystery of miracles.
Now that Prohibition has ended, what the townspeople of Twisted Tree, Kentucky, need most is the revival of the Old Sam Bourbon distillery. But William McFee knows it’ll take a miracle to convince his father, Barley, to once more fill his family’s aging house with barrels full of bourbon.
When a drifter recently buried near the distillery begins to draw crowds of pilgrims, the McFees are dubious. Yet miracles seem to come to those who once interacted with the deceased and to those now praying at his grave. As people descend on the town to visit the “Potter’s Field Christ,” William seeks to find the connection between the tragic death of his younger brother and the mysterious drifter.
But as news spreads about the miracles at the potter’s field, the publicity threatens to bring the depth of Barley’s secret past to light and put the entire McFee family in jeopardy.
“Distinguished by complex ideas and a foreboding tone, Markert’s (A White Wind Blew) enthralling novel captures a dark time and a people desperate for hope.” —Library Journal
“Mysterious, gritty and a bit mystical, Markert’s entertaining new novel inspires the question of ‘What if?’ Many characters are nicely multilayered, providing a good balance of intrigue and realism. The fascinating glimpse into the process of distilling bourbon—and the effect of the Prohibition on Kentucky and its bourbon families—adds another layer to the story.” —RT Book Reviews
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
James Markert lives with his wife and two children in Louisville, Kentucky. He has a history degree from the University of Louisville and won an IPPY Award for The Requiem Rose, which was later published as A White Wind Blew, a story of redemption in a 1929 tuberculosis sanatorium, where a faith-tested doctor uses music therapy to heal the patients. James is also a USPTA tennis pro and has coached dozens of kids who’ve gone on to play college tennis in top conferences like the Big 10, the Big East, and the ACC. Learn more at JamesMarkert.com; Facebook: James Markert; Twitter: @JamesMarkert.
Read an Excerpt
The Angels' Share
By James Markert
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2017 James Markert
All rights reserved.
The pews at St. Michael were made of solid walnut, and even the smallest sound bounced off the nave's rib-vaulted ceiling. William McFee, the oldest son of Barley and Samantha, had once dropped a coin during the first gospel and all eyes flashed toward him. But nothing had ever echoed as loudly as Barley's Colt .45 did, just as Father Vincent was consecrating the altar bread. Barley would claim it was the first time he brought a gun to church, but William knew better.
Sunlight hit the stained glass window and cast a prism across the altar. The church smelled of incense, candle wax, and perfume, and the combination made William drowsy. He didn't understand Latin; he stood when he was supposed to stand, knelt when he was supposed to kneel. Mr. Craven was nodding off near the middle pews.
William envied him; he hadn't slept last night. He'd been thinking about the last words he'd said to his youngest brother. William wanted to write an article, not kick a ball around the yard. He'd told Henry no, not once but five times, until he finally said what he'd said and Henry left the room crying.
He could never take it back, and that's what bothered him the most on this day, the one-year anniversary.
He allowed himself to remember Henry dancing, wearing out the floorboards. He sure could dance: a prodigy, they'd called him. William once believed the talent was God given. But now he wondered if it was only a cruel trick. A four-year loan God snatched in an instant of crushed glass and twisted metal. This was the real reason William let his mind wander, not the Latin — it was his way of turning his back on God. He wasn't going to put in the extra effort anymore.
Typically, the McFees had a pew to themselves in the back — Barley didn't like anyone sitting behind him. He had grown quiet since the accident, and more paranoid. Most everyone in the small town of Twisted Tree, Kentucky, avoided him now. "Lucky to be alive," they said in whispers. "Too bad about his little boy. Maybe he'll finally reopen the distillery, you know, to cope." Barley had banged up his leg in the accident, but his real wounds were the kind nobody could see, which was why he was often drunk by lunchtime.
"Some bruises take longer to surface," William had explained to his brother Johnny about their father, "and some are so deep they never come up."
Johnny, at fifteen, had already locked lips with dozens of girls while William was still searching for that first kiss. Behind the acne bumps, floppy hair, and shy smile was a boy eager to bloom. He resembled his mother, whom everyone in town considered pretty, with her soft features and wavy hair the color of wheat, but William wasn't so sure he wanted to look like his mother. He wanted that hardened, gruff look Johnny had gotten from Barley. That and an ounce of Johnny's confidence, know-how, and instincts with the babes.
But it was William, though, who'd noticed that their parents no longer held hands in church. Samantha put one of the kids in between them as a buffer, usually six-year-old Annie, the youngest now that Henry was gone. Annie had rickets, which had left her bowlegged.
William glanced at his mother. She was making eye contact with Mr. Bancroft — he of the slick black mustache three pews up and across the aisle. Then Johnny leaned over and whispered in William's ear just as Annie pointed, her quiet way of asking their father to lower the kneeler.
Father Vincent started to consecrate the wine.
Barley bent down to help his daughter, and the latch on his leather shoulder holster came loose. The Colt .45 clunked against the walnut pew and discharged a bullet. Father Vincent jumped and the congregation ducked — especially the war veterans, half of whom were likely praying for food. But it was Mrs. Calloway (whose husband dodged the Great War by claiming a bogus heart defect) who darn near caught a slug in the eye. She hit the floor as Samantha McFee screamed, "Oh my goodness, Barley!" at the top of her lungs.
William was stifling laughter when the gun went off. The joke Johnny had whispered in his ear seconds before — "A man who trouser coughs in church sits in his own pew" — was typical Johnny: ill timed and jingle brained.
The bullet punched a hole in the stained glass window on the south side of the church and then burrowed its way into the door of Mr. Bancroft's blue Model T parked outside.
Had his father also spotted his mother and the Post reporter making eye contact? Was that why the bullet lodged in that particular car door? Was it truly an accident?
The entire church was looking at them. William wiped his brow: the sweats had come, and now a nerve attack was inevitable. Like a shell-shocked veteran, he felt his hands tremble and his breath grow short. He felt smothered, dizzy, and light-headed. Not now!
Barley made no attempt to hide his gun. He sniffed the barrel before he slid it back into the shoulder harness. Then he went down on the kneeler beside his crippled daughter, closed his eyes, and prayed as the congregation split time watching him and the window's glass splinter.
"We'd better go, Barley," Samantha whispered.
William agreed. He could feel the glares as much as see them, and he was so chilled with sweat that he felt detached from himself, like he was watching from the ceiling beams. While he was up there he noticed Mr. Bancroft hurrying outside to check on his car.
But Barley was deep in prayer, his elbows resting on the pew in front of him, praying, William assumed, for the death of Preston Wildemere, who was doing a banker's bit for vehicular manslaughter. It was the reason their father went to church — to pray for another man's death. Or at least a longer sentence.
Eventually his father stood from the kneeler.
Mrs. Calloway — who had to be wearing five pounds of oyster fruit around her neck — was still on the floor, and people were gathering around to make sure she was breathing.
Barley felt it was a good time to approach Father Vincent at the altar for Communion. The wispy-haired priest eyed him with caution as he approached.
Luckily William's attack hadn't lasted long. He followed his father, not completely trusting what he was about to do. Barley never went for Communion; today he stopped before the altar and opened his mouth.
"Father," William hissed, "he's not even to that part yet. What are you doing!"
Barley stood with his mouth open, waiting for Father Vincent to slide a wafer in, which he did after a moment of contemplation.
"Corpus Christi," Father Vincent said — clearly he wanted the McFees to leave.
William wiped his forehead. Is it really the body of Christ? By the queer look in Father Vincent's eyes, the priest was thinking the same thing. Barley had fired in the middle of things, bringing a halt to the entire process.
Barley chewed, and instead of the appropriate response of Amen, he said, "Thanks."
Thanks? William wanted to sink into the marble steps but instead followed his father down the central aisle. Barley's black-and-white wing tips clicked as he walked. Samantha had already gathered Annie and Johnny near the baptismal font. She slid her fingers into the holy water and motioned the sign of the cross. Barley nodded toward the now-sitting Mrs. Calloway.
William followed his family out into the sunlight, where Barley removed a deck of Lucky Strikes from his coat. Samantha scoffed at this habit, picked up in Europe. In front of the kids she called them "coffin nails," but in secret she smoked them too. William could smell it on her clothes. She'd begun to dress differently of late too, trading in ankle-length dresses for those that showed her knees.
Across the lot Mr. Bancroft knelt beside his car, next to the new bullet hole in the driver's side door. He was pale behind the whiskers and praying, hands folded in a perfect triangle. "Cast the Devil out of Twisted Tree," he shouted when he saw Barley. "Cast him out before the End of Days takes us all, good Lord!"
Barley looked at William. "Can you drive? You're sweating like a horse."
William wiped his face. "I can drive."
* * *
It wasn't as new as Mr. Bancroft's, but the McFees had their own Model T. William was the primary driver — Barley had yet to sit behind the wheel since the accident. William started the car as Samantha, Annie, and Johnny crammed themselves into the back. It choked and throttled and spat gray smoke toward the church steps.
Before pulling out William looked over his shoulder to make sure Annie was secure beside their mother, which she was. Samantha was staring across the parking lot at Mr. Bancroft. Her concern gave William the same feeling in his gut he'd had when he'd seen his mother walking with him outside Murphy's Café back in June. And then again when he'd seen them laughing together outside the schoolhouse in August.
William didn't trust the man. He didn't think Bancroft was even Catholic. When he spoke about Christ, he sounded like one of those new Christian fundamentalists. Bancroft had only been attending St. Michael for a few months, and William was convinced it was only to see Samantha.
Barley was oblivious to it all — unless the bullet had been intended for that car door.
William slipped the car into gear with unnecessary force, and the Model T lurched toward the winding road flanked by trees turning colors. Barley cracked his window an inch so the smoke from his cigarette filtered out. He squinted as he took a drag. Other than the squeaking of Annie's leg braces, the car was silent.
Before the tragedy their car rides had been anything but silent. Henry liked to dance even in the car. Samantha would join in, clapping, and then Annie would break into made-up song. Back when Barley used to drive with a smile on his face and laughter in his eyes. It would last until Johnny'd pinch Henry or pull his ear, and then the fighting would ensue.
William missed the car noise. He missed the noise around the house too: the dinner table conversations, the day-t o-day interaction, Annie chasing Henry in and out of every room until Barley threatened to tan their hides. Although he never would. Not those two. Now it was quiet enough to hear the floorboards creak, and Annie had no one who was willing to be chased.
William noticed his knuckles bone-white on the steering wheel, so he relaxed his grip. Maybe Henry had been the catalyst. The plug that kept the air in their balloon. Ever since they'd buried him, the air had been leaking and the family now moved in slow motion, the car rides palpably tense instead of proudly cherished.
Samantha once told him that time healed all wounds, but he could tell even she didn't believe it.
A mile south of the church and a stone's throw from where a Hooverville of shanties and lean-tos had sprung up on the outskirts of the woods, William pulled the car into the gravel lot of Charlie Pipes's Gas & Taff corner store. Across the street dozens of vagrants warmed their hands over garbage-can fires. Barley called them bums.
"What's a bum?" Annie asked.
"Street clutter," Barley said. He'd already inhaled the cigarette down to a nub. "What are you doing?"
"We need gas," William said. They both knew gas wasn't the reason for his stop. Next to the front door, the newspaper rack was full of dailies. William felt the pull toward the fresh print.
"We're still a quarter wedge to empty." Barley patted the dashboard. "We can make it to Wednesday. Tuesday, at least."
Says the one who never leaves the house anymore. Their bourbon distillery had been shut for fourteen years. Barley had no job, and he did very little other than sit in his chair sipping booze. Yet they somehow had enough money to put food on the table.
William pointed to the sign above the pump: Ten Cents a Gallon. "It's cheaper than I've seen it since summer." He stepped out of the car and closed the door so he couldn't hear Barley rambling.
Annie yelled from the backseat, "Get me a piece of taffy, William."
Barley rolled down the window another couple of inches. "No taffy, William." He lowered his voice and handed William a tendollar bill. "Don't need her with wobbly legs and rotten teeth. Get yourself a paper. I know that's why you stopped."
He took the bill from his father.
Barley nodded toward the storefront. A man slept in a bundle of rags next to Gas and Taff's front door. "Don't give that bum any money. He'll spend it on booze."
William knew his father would be three sheets to the wind by dinnertime and four sheets not long after that, passed out in his chair instead of on the sidewalk. The drunk with money and the drunk without.
William met Charlie Pipes in the middle of the lot. Charlie was a tall man with leathery skin, coal-black eyes, and a gray beard that he used to keep trimmed. But since the stock market crashed in '29, he'd let himself go. The beard was long and fuzz had taken over part of his neck.
"Fill'r up, Charlie. And I'll take a newspaper and three pieces of taffy."
Charlie glanced at the car. Barley tipped his fedora.
"Is Barley gonna shoot me?"
"You already heard?"
"Word travels fast in the Tree." Charlie wiped his hands on grease-stained overalls. "Willard and Fanny Mae Patterson left before you pulled in. They were in the church and said it echoed loud enough to crack glass."
"Crack glass and puncture a car door."
William nodded. "Mr. Bancroft's."
"Good. Tired of him snooping 'round here."
"Lucky, though. Could'a been worse." William handed Charlie an extra dollar. "I'll take two papers, Charlie. Keep the rest for yourself."
"Thank you, William. Take an extra piece or two for Annie."
William closed in on the storefront. Truth be told, the downtrodden man sleeping there disgusted him, as did the pungent cloud of stench that hovered. He admired Charlie Pipes for allowing the man the small courtesy of using the storefront as a windbreak. The nights were getting cold. He looked over his shoulder to make sure Barley wasn't watching and then handed the man a dollar.
His voice was a wheeze. "God bless."
God bless? William didn't want to think about God and His so-called blessings. He entered the store to grab four pieces of taffy from the bowl on the counter, catching a whiff of the woodstove churning through pine in the back. Outside again, he dropped two pieces of taffy on the man's lap and moved toward the newspaper rack.
"He moves through you."
"Excuse me?" William stopped. "Who moves through me?"
"The Holy Spirit." The man shifted against the brick wall. "He died for our sins."
William faced the newspaper rack and mumbled, "Yes, so I hear."
"Just yesterday," said the homeless man. "He died for our sins. And now he's coming."
William gave a polite nod and grabbed two papers. One he'd read from front to back, and eventually Barley would use it for kindling. The other he'd carefully add to those he'd been saving since Coolidge took over from Harding in '23.
"It's just the way he was," the man said.
The comment gave William pause. It was what Henry used to say when asked about his dancing. "It's just the way I am." William shook it off and perused the headlines on his way back to the car.
Ships tied up in harbors with hulls rotting; freight trains idle; passenger cars empty; eleven million people without work; the treasury building bursting with gold yet Congress wrestles a deficit mounting into the billions, the result of wild and extravagant spending; granaries overflowing with wheat and corn yet millions begging for food; mines shutting down; oil industries engaged in cutthroat competition; farmers desperate; factories stagnant and industry paralyzed.
It was the same every day. It was why Mr. Bancroft had recently written in the Post that the End of Days was near.
William caught a few headlines that struck his fancy. Bruno Hauptmann was indicted for the murder of Charles Lindbergh's son. Adolf Hitler was expanding Germany's army and navy and looked to be creating an air force.
The car horn bleated three times in rapid succession.
One day I'll have a story front page and center. William lowered the paper.
"Read it when you get home," Barley called out the window. "Annie has to pee."
William hustled around to the driver's side and opened the door. He waved to Charlie, started the car, and said to Barley, "Hitler has violated the Treaty of Versailles."
Barley grunted. He didn't care about current events. He didn't care about much of anything anymore. He was the only one in the car who wasn't rattled by the gunshot.
"Is there going to be another war?" Johnny asked from the backseat.
"The last one never really ended," Barley said. "I didn't get around to killing them all."
Excerpted from The Angels' Share by James Markert. Copyright © 2017 James Markert. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Angels’ Share is an entertaining piece of historical fiction that takes place during the Great Depression. It follows an interesting chain of events involving a family who ran a whiskey distillery before prohibition. A family tragedy has them all in a hard place, until a stranger is buried in the potter’s field next to their home and interesting things start to happen. Some people said he was a reincarnation of Christ, others simply that he had amazing God-given gifts. Whatever the case, miracles and strange things start to happen, leading a young man on an investigative journey that includes pushing his family to finally move forward with their lives. Events take a darker turn and family and new friends join together to preserve their future. I found The Angels’ Share to be a well-informed treatise of the life in America during the 1930’s, and a thoroughly enjoyable story. Much of it is far-fetched and not likely to actually happen, but it guides readers through a transformation in the characters’ faith in God. Although parts of it get a bit dark, the story was inspiring. The past is resurrected and must be faced, and decisions for the future are finally made. It’s a struggle that is easy to connect with. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, or books that contain unexplained phenomena. It was a great read and would love to check out other work from the author. I received this book for free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review and the opinions and thoughts I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255
he Angels’ Share was both an interesting book and a challenge for me to read. Set during the end of prohibition - it is a time in American history I didn’t know very well. The small town of twisted tree sets the seen for a gritty and dark tale of clandestine distilleries and the making of bourbon. When a passing drifter is buried in an aptly named ‘Potter’s Field’, crowds begin to flock determined to witness a miracle by praying at his grave. We see the story form William McFee’s eyes - as he and his family struggle to determine what is true and what is fantasy. I found the setting and storyline compelling and was fascinated by the detail around the distillery and the title ‘Angels’ share’ from the evaporating process of ageing the bourbon. My only criticism is I found the characters hard to keep track of - particularly how they placed in the family - the mother and father character’s routinely referred to by their christian name along side the children - siblings for me made it hard to place the family dynamic but this is a small criticism. A little added concentration to each character should remedy this. All in all a very different book which challenges any genre you might like to try and shoehorn it into. Many thanks to Harper Collins Fiction Guild for giving me the opportunity to experience it.
Kentucky at the end of Prohibition. The Great Depression is in full swing with many people homeless and hungry. The McFee family, however, is thriving because of their secret distillery they operated throughout the prohibition of liquor. When tragedy struck and the youngest boy was killed in an automobile accident, the family deeply suffered his loss. In a potter's field next to their house, the eldest son named William witnesses a secret burial. Rumors circulate that the buried man performed miracles before his death, and this draws great crowds. As a subplot, the family patriarch learns that a dangerous criminal is searching for him with murder in mind, but is protected somewhat because of his false name. The story is full of surprises, secrets, and the restoration of hope. There is something for everyone in this lovely story. It is classified as Christian because of the miracles and religious symbolism. If you love fresh, original, and unique stories with a wide appeal to readers of all genres, then this is a good book to add to your to be read list. Definitely recommended.
This book is southern lit. I would not call it Christian. If you want to learn a lot about bourbon, this might just be the book for you, because that's what a lot of this book is about. It's set in the 1930s. WW1, and prohibition are over. The characters and story are pretty well written. However, there is unsavory language, violence, etc. Plus, it is one of those stories with a "miracle worker" and the question if he is from God/for real or not-not really my favorite kind of book. I was given this book by the Fiction Guild in exchange for an honest review.
As I read this book, I really struggled with some of the elements. Although it's published under a Christian publishing company, I was surprised to find that it is in no way a Christian book. I felt like it was really well written and held my attention, but I really couldn't get past how God was portrayed. It is obvious that the author doesn't know the same perfect, loving, good Jesus that I know and that made me really sad! I am giving it 4 stars because it was well written. It's a clean book with deep characters and a vivid look at life during and after the prohibition. I thought the author did a wonderful job with what he chose to write. I appreciate this read in exchange for my thoughts. As always, this is my honest opinion. Here's to many more!!
This was not a typical book that I would normally pick up and read on my own and it was a little hard to get into at first. But once I started reading, after a couple of chapters it drew me in. Prohibition was over, the depression had set in and there were homeless everywhere. Jobs were few and far between. The McFee's were faring pretty well because of the father's illegal activity during prohibition. They were all suffering the loss of the youngest brother, Henry age four, in an automobile accident. The McFee's lived in a house with a shut down distillery behind it that had been started by the grandfather, Sam. Next to the house was a potters field where poor and indigent members of society were buried. One night with numerous lantern lights dancing about like fireflies, the oldest son, William, witnesses a burial in the field from his upstairs window. The site begins to draw crowds of people because of rumors that this man was Christ returned or a prophet able to perform miracles before his death. Even after many come and pray over his grave. The father, Barley, is being sought after by a notorious criminal, who escaped prison. Having used a false name during dealings with this criminal he feels safer using his real name. He and son William begin searching for information on this so called "prophet" and why Henry's shoes were found among his belongings. Take a wild ride through all the dealings among the people of this imaginary town called Twisted Tree. Learn of gangsters and bootlegging and miracles that happen unexpectedly. The author has a history degree and has done much research on bourbon distillery that makes this story more interesting and gives it real life. I enjoy learning real history through fiction that brings me entertainment as well. I received this book through the Fiction Guild and was not required to write a review, positive or otherwise.
l received a copy from The Fiction Guild. I was not required to give a favorable review. All thoughts are my own. I found this a very interesting book about the time just after probation. I all the interesting information that it gave me about what they call the "Angel's Share" of the alcohol that when it given time to settle and verment. This was very interesting.
This was a different and difficult book to read for me. I really liked the historical background into the unsettled time of the era. I learned the difference between whiskey and bourbon and a peek into the underworld of prohibition. I failed to connect with the characters as there was to much violence and drinking for my taste. To me at times it almost seemed blasphemous. I gave it three stars because of the historical content and feel I did learn something. I received a complimentary copy from Thomas Nelson & Zondervan Fiction Guild. The honest review and opinions are my own and were not required.
I enjoyed reading the book the Angels Share. It was a good book. But it was a hard book to read. It's not your traditional easy to read fiction book. It had some violence in it and some tough issues like death, gangs and relationship problems. I love how the author weaved the history into the book. This time period was a rough time with gangs and violence. But, I enjoyed learning more about this time period. Overall, it was an okay book. *I received this book from Thomas Nelson-Fiction Guild. I was not require to write a review. My opinion is my own.
The Angel' Share Is a book I did not think I would want to read when I first receive it from the publisher. I was not impressed with the cover at all. Well, that is what happens when a reader judges a book by it's cover! I am so glad I force myself to read it. Within the first ten pages, I was hooked, this is such a great book! I highly recommend it! 5 stars. I received this book from the publisher, but was not required to write a review. My review is of my opinion.
This book is published by Thomas Nelson, a Christian publishing company; however, this book is not a Christian fiction book. It's not an offensive book, though, and quite interesting. I will warn you that there is a good bit of violence here. Set in 1934, prohibition is over and there is still a lot of unsettled business between some former gangs. Thus, the violence. The townspeople of Twisted Tree, Kentucky need a revival of the Old Sam Bourbon distillery. But William McFee knows it will take a miracle to convince his father, Barley, to once more fill his family's aging house with barrels of bourbon. When a drifter recently buried near the distillery begins to draw crowds of people, the McFees are left wondering what is going on here. Miracles seem to come to those who once interacted with the deceased and to those who come from far and wide to pray at his grave. This drifter some now call 'Potter's Field Christ' has the McFees unsettled as William seeks to find the connection with the tragic death of his younger brother and this mysteries drifter. News spreads about this drifter and all that's been happening and brings some decidedly unwanted and unwelcome attention to the McFee's, particularly Barley's secret past and the entire family is now is serious jeopardy. While there is violence here, it's not offensive in a way to make the reader abandon the book. The writer is good at what he does and as he weaves the story, we discover that some things just don't make sense and are best left alone. I enjoyed it and it really reminded me of an old Jimmy Cagney movie. I loved the turns of phrases the author uses that were pertinent to the period, too. *I received a copy of this book from the Fiction Guild. My review is honest and my own. READING PROGRESS