Fire Bell in the Night was the second of the Gathers First Chapters book contest winners, and what a tale it is. Set in Charleston amidst pre-Civil War tension, Edwards crafts a mystery that will have you up into the wee hours of the early morning in a race to finish this finely crafted tale. Edwards has done here what many novelists only attempt to do: tell his readers a fascinating story while giving them great historical context that is never dull.
Fire Bell in the Night: A Novel
In so many works of a particular historical setting, readers are overloaded with details from history that bog the story down. In the case of Fire Bell in the Night, not only has Edwards used a profound quote from Abraham Lincoln to set the stage, he has made the historical milieu of the Old South pieces of the puzzle to be solved rather than dragging the story into the “bore zone,” which is so often the case for those who are not keen on historical settings.
In this novel, set in the summer of 1850, tensions are high as talk of Secession by the Southern states fills the air. A series of fires have erupted throughout Charleston, which is being blamed on revolting slaves.
On trial is one illiterate farmer, accused of hiding a runaway slave, who must be made an example of. Into this setting enters John Sharp, a newspaperman from New York (read disliked Yankee) who has come to replace a colleague, killed mysteriously by a fire engine rushing to a fire.
Is the death accidental? Will the trial set off rioting within Charleston? Or is something altogether more sinister going on?
Making the novel even more interesting, Sharp is befriended by some interesting folks, both on his side and those seeking to use him to their own ends. Among them is plantation owner Tyler Breckenridge, who seemingly rescues Sharp from danger, only to befriend Sharp and show him a side of Charleston that can make the argument for slavery more palpable and the situation infinitely more confusing for Sharp. This book is ultimately about John Sharp’s search for the truth in the story, whether he can report it or not.
Edwards has done an amazing job of luring his readers in with his plot and then teaching them some things about the North-South tension that led to the Civil War that only the most fervent history buffs will already know. But he does this all without the pain of dull historical passages. Instead, the action zings across the pages and will have its readers up all Night trying to see where the story goes next. They’ll be in for a few surprises along the way.
In short, Fire Bell in the Night is a red-hot read and even more impressive because it’s from a first-time author. I can’t wait to see what Edwards has in store for us next!