Kings of Coweetsee

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“If you found us, you’re likely lost, we like to tease strangers.” When Birdie Barker Price finds an old ballot box on her front porch, she opens a Pandora’s Box full of clues to Coweetsee County’s corrupt elections, hidden crimes, and guilty passions. She enlists the help of her ex-husband, Roy Barker, currently campaigning for sheriff. Suspicions soon fall on Charlie Clyde Harmon, a felon who served time for a fatal arson at a Black church. He still insists he was framed by the disgraced former sheriff, but no one believes him. Filled with false charges, child brides, and murder ballads about the heartache of wronged women and the revenge they seek, Kings of Coweetsee introduces us to a people and place with a vanishing culture and an uncertain future.

Praise for Kings of Coweetsee

"Readers will appreciate the timely relevance of this story and the way Neal...captures the struggle between tradition and change and offers a poignant picture of poverty, abuse, crime, and punishment."

- Library Journal [read the full review]

"Western North Carolina is home to a number of accomplished writers who have portrayed the Appalachian Mountains, the history, the culture and the people in their own particular and affecting way. With his new novel, Kings of Coweetsee, Dale Neal, whose novels have all been inspired by the mountains, takes his rightful place among the most complex and nuanced of these writers...  In Neal’s hands Coweetsee is thoroughly its own place, with its own fully fleshed-out characters, irresistible tensions and engaging lyrical prose, a place that will remain with the reader for a long time to come. "

- Tommy Hays, [read the full review]

“In Kings of Coweetsee, Dale Neal artfully loops his mountain tale in and out of the lives of innocents and villains, the lovelorn and the depraved, money-hungry newcomers and old-timers alike, in a present-day county ruled by men who buy votes and conspire in ruination for their own gain. Oh, the crushing weight of sin and shadow in such a kingdom, and oh, the possibility that a ruined girl could rise again sweet as a mountain flower in an old mountain song. As in Carson McCullers’ Ballad of the Sad Café, the genius of this novel is that it sings like a ballad: dire, sweet, and fierce, each character’s fate twisted and true.”

– Marjorie Hudson, author of Indigo Field, Accidential Birds of the Carolinas, and Searching for Virginia Dare

“Dale Neal’s Kings of Coweetsee has at its center a reconstruction of a community’s history, and it’s no ordinary history, containing, among other crimes, fixed elections and various forms of mayhem. This novel has a wonderful cast of colorful characters, good- and evil-doers, who show us the underside of local and national American life. Their voices will stay with you long after you close the book.”

– Charles Baxter, author of The Sun Collective and Wonderlands

“‘We don’t consider ourselves a backwards people,’ Dale Neal writes, ‘but as the keepers of a lost kingdom.’ Neal’s ear for the Southern idioms and storytelling vernacular is uncanny and immersive. He also understands and vividly illustrates the underbelly of the still entrenched patriarchal political and social systems that corruptly govern the lives of the Coweetsee citizens. Enter this world and you will find familiar characters, but Neal’s empathetic rendering of the travails of Birdie, Roy Boy, Maurice Posey, Aunt Zip, and Charlie Clyde, among many others, make this his best and most potent book. His respect for the trenchant backwoods wisdom of his characters is always present, as is the dirt-poor heartbreak of unrequited love and the high plaintive lonesome hiccups of the traditional ballads that stab into the listener’s broken places and settle there. Kings of Coweetsee will shift the ground beneath your feet.”

– Keith Flynn, editor of Asheville Poetry Review, co-author of Prosperity Gospel: Portraits of the Great Recession

Kings of Coweetsee is a tale of power and intrigue with an ache at its heart as old as love itself. Dale Neal writes with the penetrating vision of an archaeologist unearthing the dark ironies of a thorny past. He’s a born story-teller — his prose is graceful and his eye is keen.”

– Kathryn Schwille, author of What Luck, This Life

“Simply one of the most natural storytellers writing novels today.”

– Kevin McIlvoy, author of At the Gate of All Wonder and One Kind Favor

“Dale Neal, with a reporter’s keen eye for detail, has brought to life a fictional mountain township, that, on further reflection, might not be totally fictional. Certainly the details ring true. This book is both an evocation of a disappearing culture and a picture of electioneering chillingly relevant to our times. A good read!”

– Wayne Caldwell, author of Cataloochee, Requiem by Fire, and Woodsmoke