The Secret of Magic

Deborah Johnson casts a spell over readers with her second novel, the intricately layered mystery The Secret of Magic. Regina Robichard, an attorney working with the NAACP in 1946, has plenty of experience with discrimination, but when her supervisor, Thurgood Marshall, sends her to Mississippi to investigate the death of a black soldier during his bus ride home, she finds a depth of prejudice she never dreamed possible.

Regina encounters a town that knows about the young lieutenant's murder but turns a blind eye; a father who aches for justice; and the author of her favorite childhood novel, a fading Southern belle whose family's involvement with the victim's family stretches back over a century. Regina must navigate the politics and dangers of a South where blacks and whites live in more physical proximity yet under more enforced segregation than the North, a place where a war hero can be slain for the color of his skin. Even Miss Mary, the author, whose novel is banned in the South for its depiction of interracial childhood friendships, turns out to be more complex and biased than Regina could have imagined. Miss Mary's past, especially her curious debt to the murdered man's father, contains a mystery that will shatter Regina's illusions even more deeply than the murder.

Johnson's evocation of the Jim Crow South contains nostalgia and heartbreak in equal measure, never flinching from the worst of human nature but ultimately celebrating the best. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Latah County Library District and blogger at Infinite Reads

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