The two Arkansas writers best-known nationally may be Charlaine Harris of Magnolia and Joan Hess of Fayetteville. They are primarily mystery writers, and have big followings, with major publishers who have marketed a lot of their books. And both have new books out.
“Malpractice in Maggody” by Joan Hess is from Simon and Schuster (hard cover, $23). It’s the 15th novel in her Arly Hanks mystery series (she’s written 13 others in another mystery series), and it’s a good one to start with if you’re not familiar with Hess’ work. Arly Hanks is everybody’s favorite downhome detective in fictional Maggody, Ark., Pop. 775, which, critics have noted, seems to harbor more killers, dastardly villains and creepy characters than any town that size in Christendom.
“Definitely Dead” by Charlaine Harris is from Ace Books of the Penguin Group (hard cover, $23.95). It is the sixth novel in her Southern Vampire series, a jumble of genres that might be called mystery vampire fantasy redneck naughty romance fiction. The mixture has been successful enough to hoist the two previous books in the series onto the New York Times bestseller list. Harris will appear Saturday, May 6, to sign her book at Barnes and Noble in West Little Rock.
“The Queen of Purgatory,” a novel by Guy Lancaster of North Little Rock, is available from Chenault & Gray Publishing, a new Little Rock firm. The story is set in Parkin and incorporates historical and archeological lore of that place into a contemporary thriller. Lancaster is assistant editor of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, a project of the Butler Center at the Central Arkansas Library. The handsome trade paperback sells for $12.95.
Just out from Louisiana State University Press at Baton Rouge is “A Crisis in Confederate Command: Edmund Kirby Smith, Richard Taylor and the Army of the Trans-Mississippi,” by Jeffrey S. Prushankin, a young Penn State historian. The conflict between Kirby Smith and Taylor (who was President Zachary Taylor’s fiery-tempered son) had a strong bearing on Civil War events in Arkansas during and after the Red River campaign, and there is an extensive description and analysis of Gen. Fred Steele’s Camden Expedition and the battles associated with it. Those battles together comprised most of the Civil War fighting in south Arkansas. The command conflict and the military maneuvers and operations themselves were murky, complicated and hard to follow both at the time and in retrospect, and historian Prushankin untangles the tale rather deftly. It is a rather short book but the hard cover edition is $39.95.
“Learning Together at Last: Memories of the Desegregation of the Arkansas Public School System” is compiled and edited by Dr. Paul Root of the Pete Parks Center for Regional Studies at Ouachita Baptist University at Arkadelphia. In it, about 50 Arkansas people tell of their personal experiences attending Arkansas public schools during the often stormy transition periods when those schools were racially integrated. The reminiscences cover a 40-year period, from the epochal Hoxie experiment soon after the 1954 Brown decision to the influx of Hispanic students in the mid-1990s. These aren’t moving or inspirational accounts, but the book is an encouraging reminder that, at every step along the way, there were a lot of good people out there trying their best to get along and to make the best of a difficult situation. If they haven’t yet finally overcome, they’ve made progress, and they haven’t given up.
“Get Carter: Backstage in History from JFK’s Assassination to the Rolling Stones” is the ghosted autobiography of Bill Carter of Rector, who was a member of President Kennedy’s Secret Service detail and later became a storied political operative and criminal lawyer in Little Rock and Washington, D.C., and chief legal wrangler for the Rolling Stones in the hassles surrounding their first big American tour. His associations with high-level spooks and mobsters and power brokers made him one of the colorful characters of our time. At one time or another he was Tanya Tucker’s manager, Steve McQueen’s best buddy, Wilbur Mills’ favorite confidante and Jimmy Hoffa’s best hope for getting back on top. His book (hard cover, $29.95) is from Fine’s Creek Publishing at Nashville, Tenn., where Carter now lives. The writing was done by Judi Turner, a Nashville free-lancer.