Decent People (Hardcover)
February 2023 Indie Next List
“Decent People captures what a horrific crime can do to a small rural community. You’ll want to cheer for the characters, and you know that someone is responsible for a triple murder. How many secrets can someone hold before they break?”
— Shane Mullen, Left Bank Books, St. Louis, MO
From Center for Fiction First Novel Prize winning author De'Shawn Charles Winslow, a sweeping and unforgettable novel of a Black community reeling from a triple homicide, and the secrets the killings reveal.
In the still-segregated town of West Mills, North Carolina, in 1976, Marian, Marva, and Lazarus Harmon-three enigmatic siblings-are found shot to death in their home. The people of West Mills- on both sides of the canal that serves as the town's color line-are in a frenzy of finger-pointing, gossip, and wonder. The crime is the first reported murder in the area in decades, but the white authorities don't seem to have any interest in solving the case.
Fortunately, one person is determined to do more than talk. Miss Josephine Wright has just moved back to West Mills from New York City to retire and marry a childhood sweetheart, Olympus “Lymp” Seymore. When she discovers that the murder victims are Lymp's half-siblings, and that Lymp is one of West Mills's leading suspects, she sets out to prove his innocence. But as Jo investigates those who might know the most about the Harmons' deaths, she starts to discover more secrets than she'd ever imagined, and a host of cover-ups-ranging from medical misuse to illicit affairs-that could upend the reputations of many.
For readers of American Spy and Bluebird, Bluebird, Decent People is a powerful new novel about shame, race, money, and the reckoning required to heal a fractured community.
About the Author
De'Shawn Charles Winslow is the author of In West Mills, a Center for Fiction First Novel Prize winner, an American Book Award recipient, and a Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction winner, and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book, Lambda Literary, and Publishing Triangle awards. He was born and raised in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and graduated from the Iowa Writers' Workshop.
“[A] talented young author . . . Watching Winslow subvert the conventions of an old literary form is half the thrill of this novel. After all, the shelf of mystery detectives is hardly crowded with 60-year-old Black women. And that's not the only cozy convention Winslow toys with . . . The larger social context that Winslow explores is what moves this story beyond one crime into a reflection on the myriad unacknowledged crimes committed across decades.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post
“Propulsive . . . a murder mystery that doubles as a savvy examination of race and class . . . Decent People practically turns its own pages, creating in the reader an insatiable curiosity.” —Los Angeles Times
“Hard-hitting . . . an intriguing murder puzzle-and a good deal more. Thanks to richly detailed chapters that switch between multiple points of view, readers are drawn into the lives and memories of several West Mills citizens. All have secrets to hide. But [main character] Ms. Wright, like Mr. Winslow, handles everything with grit and style.” —Tom Nolan, Wall Street Journal
“Decent People is a propulsive novel with rich characters drawn from life in North Carolina, written by a man who knows his state well enough to portray both its struggles and its people's enduring will to resolve them.” —Wiley Cash, The Assembly
"Decent People assures Winslow a place in the pantheon of great Southern writers." - Don Noble, Alabama Public Radio
"Spirited." - The New York Times Book Review
"[An] elegant mystery." - Oprah Daily
"If you love murder mysteries, Winslow's second novel is a fresh take on an old form." - New York Public Library Staff Picks 2023
"Winslow returns to the fictional Southern town of West Mills for a second time in this expertly-plotted and character-driven follow-up to his award-winning debut novel . . . A haunting, page-turning mystery, Decent People makes a must-read on anyone’s literary list." - The Millions
"Interconnected family secrets, a whodunit murder mystery and the unshakable remnants of bigotry spin North Carolina author De’Shawn Charles Winslow’s second novel ‘Decent People’ into an introspective and big-hearted examination of small-town Southern life … On the surface Decent People is a cozy, homespun mystery that sets out to answer who killed the Harmon siblings. But Winslow has tucked a sophisticated story full of entwined relationships and crackling social commentary inside this small-town tale. In examining the bigotry, racism and classism prevalent in West Mills four decades ago, Winslow puts forth the question without directly asking: How much has truly changed?" - Atlanta Journal
"Anyone who adored Charmaine Wilkerson’s Black Cake and Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s Take My Hand, take note. De’Shawn Charles Winslow invites readers on a satisfying ride that, through his keen observations of human nature, leads to deeper considerations of the glacial progress of racial equality." - BookPage, starred review
"Winslow offers several points of view in this character-driven mystery, once again pulling readers in with conversational, highly readable writing while deftly weaving in themes of race, sexuality, and small-town dynamics. Another winner." - Booklist
"As far as endearing, small-town amateur elder sleuths go, Agatha Christie's Miss Marple has some competition in Josephine "Jo" Wright, who features in De'Shawn Charles Winslow's splendid second novel, Decent People, a mystery in which there's a lot more at stake than finding a murderer." - Shelf Awareness
"It’s built around a mystery, but this novel is more a deep literary exploration of the complex dynamics of race, class, and homophobia in the 1970s American South; it proves a worthy successor to Winslow’s acclaimed In West Mills." - Library Journal
"Winslow chronicles the aftermath of a triple homicide that rocks a segregated Southern community in his dynamic latest . . . There are a trove of surprises along the way to the well-earned resolution, and Winslow entrances readers with strong characters, impeccable prose, and brisk pacing. As a character-driven mystery, it delivers the goods." - Publishers Weekly
"This tale comes across as considerably more than a regional whodunit because of its author’s humane and sensitive perceptions toward his characters, even those who may not deserve such equanimity." - Kirkus Reviews
"Stellar . . . A first-rate literary mystery and a brilliantly threaded character-driven novel of fractured lives seeking a healing of the human spirit . . . Decent People further advances Winslow’s well-deserved reputation as a rising star in American literature with a novel that masterfully balances its themes of empathy and social justice with its structure as a small-town mystery page-turner. The narrative also serves as an inviting point of entrance for new readers and a welcome return for Winslow’s dedicated following into the fully realized world of West Mills, where love — be it romantic, familial, or platonic — still can alight a path home, even in the darkest times." - Post and Courier
"One of De'Shawn Charles Winslow's greatest gifts is his world-building mastery. West Mills and the people who reside in it feel so real, recognizable, tangible, vibrant, and vivid. His rendering of this southern landscape is extraordinary. And this skill serves Decent People very well. It's been a very long time since I've read a good, old-fashioned whodunnit, and this is a most outstanding one, accomplishing several feats at once: it's a compelling mystery with brilliant misdirections and surprising revelations, all while having depth of purpose and critical, crucial social commentary. Decent People is quite the achievement." - Robert Jones Jr., author of the National Book Award Finalist and New York Times bestseller, THE PROPHETS
"De’Shawn Charles Winslow’s powerful second novel Decent People is a gripping mystery but also something more. A thoughtful examination of small-town life becomes a story about America itself, looking directly at the legacies of racism and segregation, homophobia and secrecy, poverty and power." - Rumaan Alam, author of Leave the World Behind
"Despite the darkness of the subject matter, Winslow has a light touch, moving readers briskly through the novel’s kaleidoscopic events. He spices the story with period detail, apposite references to McMillan & Wife and Patty Hearst that remind us we are visiting a lost world. Winslow’s novel partakes of seedy crime and racial violence, family secrets and betrayals, romantic rivalries and hopeless loves but resolves into an essentially domestic question: Where can we find a home?" - Humanities Tennessee, Chapter 16