A Calamity of Souls

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Release Date: 
April 16, 2024
Grand Central Publishing
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“Baldacci has a reputation for solid character development, and A Calamity Of Souls continues to build that reputation even higher.”

As defined by Webster: Calamity: 1. deep trouble or misery. 2. Any extreme misfortune bringing great loss and sorrow.

David Baldacci’s newest novel, A Calamity of Souls, refines this definition.

The story is set in the late 1960s Vietnam Era in Freeman County, Virginia, as the country grapples with equality in the ongoing Jim Crow era. Freeman County is a location that still separates Blacks and whites with a vicious dividing line.

The story finds John Robert “Jack” Lee, a white lawyer tied up in court defending a Black man, Jerome Washington, on a murder charge. Jerome’s crime? He is accused of killing a wealthy white man and his wife.

Nothing is going right as Jack begins to gather evidence that is not helpful; that is, until Desiree DuBose appears on the scene. A Black female lawyer from the North, Desiree has built a reputation for defending Black people’s rights across the country and winning more often than losing.

Before the trial begins, Prosecuting Attorney Edmund Battle throws a new wrench into the works when he charges Jerome’s wife, Pearl, as an accomplish to the murders. As the trial begins, Jack and Desiree encounter more hatred and racism than Jack thinks possible, but Desiree knows more is coming.

This is the time when George Wallace, a 1968 candidate for President of the United States, is not running on Unity, and one of his wealthy henchmen stands in the back of this trial expecting to do what he can to ensure that Jerome Washington is electrocuted and Wallace can use this as a reason to continue to separate Black people and white people.

Jack is severely beaten, Desiree is threatened, Jack’s office is torched, and that’s just the beginning. Jack’s older autistic sister, Lucy, is murdered—a sign for Jack to give it up.

But that’s not Jack’s style, nor is it Desiree’s. Jack calls upon his private investigator, Donny Pepper—a white man married to a Black woman—for assistance. Donny is only too happy to assist.

As the trial moves forward, it becomes clear that several of the county’s witnesses are either lying or have weak memories or have been bought off. The jury is all white men, and this does not bode well for Jack and Desiree with their case.

Jack’s younger brother, Jeff, who deserted the Vietnam War and has not been seen for years, appears and gets a reprieve from the government. His previous relationship with Christine Hanover (daughter of the murdered couple), seems to throw another fly into the ointment when it appears that the relationship might be growing again.

And it is from the beginning of the story, that the definition of “calamity” becomes clear as it applies to the characters of this story—the good, the bad, the frightened, the frightening, the truthtellers, the liars, and everyone in between.

Baldacci has a reputation for solid character development, and A Calamity of Souls continues to build that reputation even higher! “Real change is built on one person at a time doing something different. Something they might have been scared to do before. Like a white lawyer who’d never thought of defending a Black man in court. Then another person and another person comes along and does something different, too. Hell, before you know it, . . . you’ve got yourself that ‘United’ States of America’ you talk about.”

This story climbs many hills and descends into many valleys, while the reader scratches their head trying to figure out how this story will end. Do not look at the end of the story—see it through. It will be well worth the full read.