The Wrong Good Deed: A Novel

Image of The Wrong Good Deed: A Novel
Release Date: 
May 2, 2023
Poisoned Pen Press
Reviewed by: 

“Cooney pulls a creative twist out of the story and surprises the reader with the true meaning of The Wrong Good Deed.”

It’s never a good idea to hide our past, as it will always catch up with us. At least that’s the message Caroline B. Cooney shares in her new book, The Wrong Good Deed.

Life is as it should be for two elderly friends, Muffin Morgan and Clemmie Murray (Helen Stephens), until at church one Sunday when Muffin sees someone from her past. Someone she does not want to see, and certainly does not want him to see her.

In a moment of hysterics, Muffin convinces Clemmie to rush from the church and go home. Clemmie, annoyed, but following Muffin, begins the drive home only to see an auto accident involving two teenage girls in a large pickup truck. Stopping to see if they need help, she is joined by a man in a car—a man Muffin is convinced is following them.

The problem with the two girls resolved, Muffin and Clemmie continue home where Muffin tells the story of her past.

In 1964 she was a young woman, Christaphine Nearing, married to Tommy Nearing, and his close-knit family. They lived in Ferris, South Carolina. It was the Jim Crow era and the Nearing family did not tolerate “uppity coloreds.”

When Tommy Nearing, Senior, kills an “uppity colored” and directs junior and his friends, Daniel, Webb, and Haven to take the body and bury it—they were good boys and followed orders.

They also did not tolerate northern reporters whose sole job, it seemed, was to make life miserable for Ferris, SC. “Northern newspapers described southern town as ‘facing high racial tension.’. . . And now this scrawny, arrogant city boy MacBurton Ward planned to attend every meeting of every town board. Where, said Tommy Senior, he would quote. Publicize.”

The orders went out again, although MacBurton is white, he is a disrupter and should be taught a lesson. The boys grab him and take him to an abandoned farm that has some hearty trees.

When Christaphine realizes what is about to happen, she can no longer tolerate the hate. She jumps in her car, drives to the farm, saves MacBurton, and leaves Ferris forever. Now pregnant and without a home, she escapes to an aunt’s home and becomes Muffin.

Her old life disappears, and a new life begins when she divorces Tommy and marries. Fifty years later, Muffin Morgan fears her life is about to be revealed when she watches a TV program where the now much older MacBurton Ward is being interviewed. He is searching for the woman who saved him. He does not know her name, but Muffin certainly does.

As Cooney unfolds her story, she adds a parallel tale revealing that Clemmie, now Helen Stephens, has her own demons to deal with. It should be noted, however, that Helen’s story does not have the impact that Muffin’s story has, although both women must deal with a past no longer hidden.

Muffin, who is an exerciser, spends every morning walking through the complex, now on the lookout for the man who may be ready to upend her life. One morning, on her daily routine, Muffin is hit and killed and now Clemmie/Helen finds herself in the position of searching for Muffin’s murderer.

She discovers Daniel and Haven, from Muffin’s past, each who could have a reason for keeping her secret buried deep, but Cooney pulls a creative twist out of the story and surprises the reader with the true meaning of The Wrong Good Deed.

Although some might find the basis for the story disturbing, it’s a good book, well paced, and interesting, and Cooney wraps everything up tight with a satisfying and surprising ending.