Books

Bayou Whispers: A Book Review

Bayou Whispers, written by R.D. Wood, is the newest release by Crystal Lake Publishing. Bayou Whispers follows a mixed race, young woman who survives her past only to find out that it is not done with her yet.

At first, the book evokes the fast pacing of early John Grisham mashed up with the supernatural elements of True Blood. Ultimately, the horror isn’t so much about Zombies as the trauma the heroine survives.

Emotional Baggage

The story begins in the months after Hurricane Katrina. Similar to the pandemic, Katrina represents a before and after moment for the people of New Orleans. Nothing will ever be the same for them.

Jeannine LaRue crawls out of a bayou after months of torture. The timing of Jeannine’s introduction is intentional. The use of Katrina is appropriate and serves as a warning for many who will find the themes of social injustice, income inequality, and sexual violence triggering. New Orleans flavor, fierce friendships and magical realism help to lighten moments and propel the plot forward.

Back in Time

After meeting Jeannine, Bayou Whispers takes off. Daring you to keep up. Wood uses flashbacks heavily. The chapters declare time and place at their beginning and without these labels, one can easily get lost. The device adds to the mystery of the relationship Jeannine has with her past as well as with cop-turned-criminal Curtis Jones.

Curtis is a white man with his own trauma. He “saved” Jeannine when he found her wandering aimlessly and bloodied that Halloween night. The two characters end up estranged and the reasons are doled out like crumbs as the story unfolds. Wood gives Curtis a voice that is at once nonchalant and sentimental.

Jeannine reckons with literal and figurative ghosts of her past when Curtis calls her home to New Orleans years later asking for her help. She is now an attorney in New York. Curtis faces charges of killing the men that tortured her in the days after Katrina. If you think this is going to be a simple legal thriller, you are wrong.

Curtis leads a krewe (crew) that makes money in less than legitimate ways. His partners have all bonded from serving time in the military together and have a common enemy in the Major, a sheriff who dabbles in the illicit himself. However, there is more than meets the eye in the bayous of Louisiana. Something unnatural, rather supernatural, lives there and has grown tired of waiting for its time for power. This force needs Jeannine in order to come alive. Jeannine has a family history that transfers to her a promise her ancestors made to a Haitian entity. This Loa, is not the praying kind, unfortunately. It’s the full-of-wrath kind.

Twists and Turns

The middle of the book has a lot for the reader to absorb. The subjects of Jewish mysticism, Voodoo magic and racial prejudice, to name a few. I also found myself wishing there were a character guide so I could keep up, not only because of the number of characters but the tendency of them to morph into other characters. Eventually, the story anchors itself back to Jeannine and her traumas. How they readied her for the present. How they gave her power to take agency. She is no longer a victim but a victor.

Bayou Whispers races to the finish line. Needless to say, there are a lot of epic battle scenes and power struggles between the good and bad guys, the living and the undead, the mere human and the deity. The reader is gifted many A-ha! moments, some more predictable than others. The author ties up the central conflicts of the story but leaves room for a reunion with some of the characters in the future.

The Verdict

This book does not exist in a vacuum. The unmasking of social injustices in this past year are front and center as the scenes of Jeannine play out through the day-to-day violence of racial slurs to the brutal assaults on her body. The author has said that he grew up with strong female role models in his life. This book is more than a fun romp through a surreal bayou. It is a thank you to the women that influenced R. D. Wood.

Bayou Whispers is out today from Crystal Lake Publishing.