disclaimer – i received a copy of this book via open road integrated media in exchange for an honest review.
in 1923, the lovely and highly desired louise talbot is brutally murdered. when it’s discovered that she was having an affair, her husband is charged with the crime. the trial and its aftermath rocks the tiny town of soledad city and forever changes the lives of all its residents.
a covenant with death was originally published in 1964 and this is its well deserved re-emergence. it’s clear from the beginning that ben lewis, one of the town’s two magistrates, is an unreliable narrator. he was naive when the events took place and he’s looking back with insight gained through a lifetime of experience.
when you know that the narrator is unreliable you have to ask yourself, “can i believe anything he says, even with the added benefit of experience?” in a covenant with death what you’re actually hearing is a story that was observed and lived by one version of a man, processed by another version of him, and finally reconstructed and told by a third. like playing the children’s game “telephone” you know that details, perhaps crucial ones, will be altered, perhaps irrevocably, from their original version.
author stephen becker has crafted a narrator who can rise above this handicap. each time ben lewis steps out of the narration to weave his current life into it should jar the reader out of the story. instead, it pulls you further and further into the story, not only because of the murder and the trial and the people, but because he is as compelling a character in the context of the original story as he is fascinating a character in his own right.
there is a lot of time period specific language in the story, but the meaning is clear in the given context. there are sections that are incredibly verbose but, given the time period (1923), the language makes sense and doesn’t draw you out of the story. i’m sorry that it took me so long to find out about this story because it is a fascinating character study and intriguing foray into the 1920’s legal system.
five out of five stars