Michael Hicks Thompson. The Actress. Shepherd King Publishing, 2017. See here to buy the book.
The Actress is the sequel to Michael Hicks Thompson’s The Rector. The setting is still 1950’s Solo, Mississippi. Hollywood people, including the famous actress Tallulah Ivey, have come to Solo to make a movie about the events in The Rector. A local cotton farmer, Andrew Dawkins, is shot outside Tallulah’s window, with a note attached to his hand. Tallulah shot him, but was it deliberate? Martha McRae, the small-town newspaper publisher from the previous book, investigates.
I wrote a review of The Rector a while back, and some of what I said about The Rector is applicable to The Actress. This novel was somewhat like a Matlock or Murder, She Wrote episode. It did not go too deeply into probing and characterizing the protagonist, but Martha was still a likeable, level-headed character. As far as theology is concerned, The Actress, like The Rector, seems to combine Calvinism with a belief in libertarian free-will. The priest in the books is Episcopalian, so perhaps he reflects a Reformed version of that tradition. (I learned of such a version from one of Joni Eareckson Tada’s books.) The resolution of the mystery was somewhat implausible: why would such-and-such a character even think to do such-and-such? (I do not want to give away the plot, so that is why I am avoiding specificity here.)
The Rector was an allegory. While the description of The Actress on Amazon calls this book “a Paulinian allegory,” how that is the case is not readily apparent to me.
Another difference between The Actress and The Rector is that The Actress struck me as a tighter, neater book. Mary and Oneeda are in The Actress, but they do not show up that often. They had excellent scenes in The Actress, but I was glad that I did not have to read about Oneeda falling in love so easily!
The Actress had a list and description of the characters at the beginning and a court case near the end. Both were helpful. The court case was helpful because it regurgitated details from earlier in the story, explaining their significance. Granted, the story explained those details earlier, but the court case was a way for the reader to take a step back and look at the big picture.
I also appreciated the wry commentary, here and there. In the book, Hollywood was making the movie to portray the residents of Mississippi as uncivilized rubes. Martha reflected on how ironic this was, since many Southerners in Mississippi saw themselves as more refined than others!
I actually learned some things from The Actress, or, at least, I was encouraged to look some things up. I looked up who was Governor of Mississippi at that time! There were parts of the court case that struck me as hearsay, yet it was accepted. I looked “hearsay” up and learned that there is acceptable hearsay and unacceptable hearsay. A prominent feature of the book is The Devil tarot card. The card’s meaning, in the book, is that one can use one’s negative characteristics to promote oneself and to pursue one’s ambitions, so long as one is careful. That differs from what the priest advocates, which is to put oneself in God’s larger plan. I do not know if Thompson was drawing from a Tarot book to explain the card’s meaning, but, when I looked up The Devil tarot card on the Internet, the meanings that I found were much more negative about the devil.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Bookcrash. My review is honest!