The Bourbon Thief is sub-titled: ‘A Family with Bourbon in its Blood, and Blood on Its Hands’. That blood is spread over several generations of the Maddox family dynasty of bourbon barons. It’s an adult novel about love, life (and death), lucre, and legacy, which proceeds along two lines. It begins and ends with the contemporary story of Cooper McQueen who, after a one-night stand with a mysterious woman named Paris, discovers that a priceless rare bottle of Red Thread Bourbon is missing from his cabinet. Paris alleges that it is rightfully hers. The rest of the book is Paris telling McQueen about the rise and decline of the Maddoxes, and her claim to the bottle of valued booze.
The Red Thread Bourbon distillery was founded by the Maddox family of Kentucky in the waning days of the Civil War. Now, generations on, it is in crisis ‒ the Maddox male line is dying out.
Enter Tamara Maddox and her lover Levi Shelby. Tamara is white, Levi is black, and both of their young lives are influenced by several generations of Maddox men, and by the lives and deaths of slaves, servants, and other retainers who have worked for the family and the distillery over the years.
We get a good feel for the racial tension that underlays the plot when Levi talks about his uncle who “had little use for white people. It was ‘us’ and it was ‘them’ and the more ‘us’ stayed away from ‘them’ the better ‘us’ had it. But on occasion he’d admit there was a good one or two of ‘them’.”
Levi also muses about color: “The one-drop rule had never made any sense to him. If one drop of black blood made you black, why didn’t one drop of white blood make you white? And hadn’t anyone noticed yet that everybody’s blood was red?”
Some reviewers have called author Tiffany Reisz a “whip smart” writer whose books are “classy” and “epic.” As a story teller, Reisz has an avid following, for good reason ‒ she writes blockbusters. This one is an intergenerational saga. The Bourbon Thief is southern gothic, not in the sense of horror or gloom (though it has its dark moments), but as a romantic, mature, sexy, fast-paced, interracial tale.
The plot is entwined around a red-threaded knot harboring age-old secrets about whites and blacks, brothers and sisters, fathers and uncles, mothers and daughters. The untangling of the bourbon-soaked knot will keep you entranced all the way to the startling conclusion. This is historical fiction that speaks to our time. It is highly readable, and recommended if you like classy, racy southern novels.
Don Messerschmidt is an anthropologist and writer, with long experience as a book author, magazine editor and writers’ mentor. He was raised in Alaska, has lived and worked for several decades in the Himalayas (he first went to Nepal as a Peace Corps Volunteer), but now resides in Vancouver, Washington, when not off traveling or leading a Himalayan tour. He is the author of the award winning Big Dogs of Tibet and the Himalayas: A Personal Journey (Orchid Press, Bangkok, 2010/11); Against the Current: The Life of Lain Singh Bangdel–Writer, Painter and Art Historian of Nepal (Orchid Press, 2004); and Fr Moran of Kathmandu: Pioneer Priest, Educator and Ham Radio Voice of the Himalayas (2nd ed., Orchid Press, 2011). When he's not writing another book, he reads good mysteries and historical novels, and keeps a large shelf of books on birds and another on dogs, as well as on the Himalayas where he has spent much of his life.
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