I'm a transplant to the South. I was raised in East Central Illinois in the heart of farm country. I have had the opportunity to live several places in my life and have always enjoyed studying the cultural differences in the places I lived. When I moved to Georgia I had some very clear expectations, having read and loved Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and North and South by John Jakes as a teen. I expected the beauty of the countryside. I expected the hospitality. I even expected, to a lesser degree, southern humor, which is truly a thing unto itself. I fell in love with the South and I think by and large southerners are a proud people who respect their religion, their country, their families, and their lands with unerring strength. There were things I didn't expect, the steel in the spine of many Southerners, the well guarded inner life, and the heat, I didn't expect the summers to be so dang hot.
T.M. Brown's novel, Sanctuary, is in many ways a love story to the South. The novel centers
around Liddy and Theo Phillips, retirees who have moved from the hustle and bustle of Atlanta to the quaint antebellum town of Shiloh, Georgia. Theo is a retired editor and naturally falls into the community newspaper to write a special interest piece on a local hero, Jessie Masterson, and by extension John Priestley. Masterson suffered an untimely death shortly after Priestley was imprisoned for embezzlement, a charge that rings dubious at best to the townspeople who knew him. Priestley and Masterson had played an integral role in the character of the town and their stories are entertwined. This novel, and the town it is set in, is populated with an eclectic menage typical of small southern towns. While I fully enjoyed the cast of characters and the familiar nods to southern hospitality the real power in this story is the unraveling of the tale beneath the surface. Brown does a nice job setting the slow cadence of life in a southern town and lets the minutia of life filter through the novel, in simple backyard cook outs, amiable conversations, liesurely afternoons on the hammock, and hours digging through long overlooked files seeking answers.
Sanctuary is a slow southern amble into the heart of a mystery. It reads like water under a bridge, fathoms deep and murky beneath a placid surface. Brown brings a frank honesty to his work that I thoroughly enjoyed. His faith in God shines through and in the words of his protagonist he offers wisdom, as Theo understands it, as he is guided to do the work he feels drawn to do.