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The Booker Prize 2022 #6: The Trees by Percival Everett

Money, Mississippi does not hold what its name promises but is home to an interesting set of characters who wake up to a series of brutal murders. White men are murdered and at each crime a second body is found, that of a young black man resembling Emmett Till who was lynched many years ago. As the local police struggles to make sense of these crimes – and keeps losing the second body – a pair of detectives is sent down from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation to solve the puzzle. They are met with the expected racism and resistance of the towns inhabitants but find help from curious sources, such as a hundred-and-five year old woman who holds a record of every lynching in US history. Just when the detectives believe to have solved the crime, similar murders happen all over the country.

The Trees is a dark and powerful satire of America’s history – and present – of racism and a true page-turner. The humour is dark and often laugh out loud funny, though not everyone might be able to handle it. Everett is purposefully provocative and successfully shows racism and violence for what they are. This fast-paced murder mystery has one of the most colourful and chaotic casts of characters I have read, their names alone speaking to the author’s wit and humour. Skilfully constructed and masterfully told, The Trees history lesson that makes you want to laugh at the absurdity and simultaneously cry at the injustice of social realities that are centuries old but last until today. I will definitely pick up more of Everett’s long backlist!

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