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Fire Bell in the Night    by Geoffrey S. Edwards order for
Fire Bell in the Night
by Geoffrey S. Edwards
Order:  USA  Can
Touchstone, 2007 (2007)
* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

In the summer of 1850, in the simmering heat of Charleston, South Carolina, the trial of Darcy Nance Calhoun is about to begin. Accused of assisting a runaway slave, Calhoun now awaits his fate in the southern, pro-slavery city, and, of course, that fate seems a foregone conclusion according to many citizens: Calhoun will be found guilty, and then he will be executed.

However, there is a much more profound and 'strange unrest' in Charleston (and throughout much of the rest of the nation), and Calhoun - although he seems almost indifferent to his role in the larger picture - is poised to become a symbolic bit-player in a much larger drama.

To capture the scope of that intensifying drama, the New York Tribune has sent reporter John Sharp into the 'hornet's nest' of Charleston. Following in the footsteps of a previously dispatched reporter, Horace Simpson - a man who met with death in an apparent accident in Charleston - Sharp moves through the city's tension-filled streets and becomes acquainted with all manner of good, bad, and ugly citizens who have become increasingly uneasy as their society has begun 'crumbling around them.'

Charleston in 1850 - a powerful city built on the pernicious cancer of human slavery in a complicated and divided American society - is reaching the boiling point, and Sharp is now poised to become an important witness (and an involved participant) as he mixes with the highest and the lowest elements of society and unravels some of the city's most powerful secrets.

Fire Bell in the Night is Geoffrey S. Edwards' elegantly written, dramatic recreation of an oppressive, anxious moment in American history. John Sharp, the author's protagonist - sensitive and sensible - navigates through a racially charged atmosphere of fear and hatred as he exposes the complicated social and political dynamics of a polarized society on the verge of civil war.

Readers who travel with John Sharp to Charleston will discover some things profound, passion-filled, surprising, and disturbing about the past; at the same time, readers - as the author intends - should also recognize some unsettling similarities between America's past and present. In fact, as we learn more about the past, perhaps we will be better prepared to turn away from making the same kinds of mistakes now and in the future.

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