written by Steven Wells Hicks
published by Steven Wells Hicks with partial funding through Mississippi Arts Commission
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Did I enjoy this book: Yes.
Mr. Hicks has a wonderfully distinctive writing style. His material is original, his characters are dynamic, and his setting is unique. I feel like I’m going down a list of crucial literary elements and checking off each one. He’s covered them all and done so nicely.
I don’t suggest you read the opening scene late at night if your only companion is your overactive imagination. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of. To describe it as cringe worthy doesn’t do it justice.
From there, the story takes you through plot twists and rapidly developing characters to a firework’s explosion of an ending.
So, why not five stars? There is so much I love about this book. However, the part in the story where they’re making legal motions and selecting a jury runs on too long and is too slow for my taste. I caught myself skimming to get to the next exciting scene.
Would I recommend it: Don’t let my half star complaint stop you. It’s a long book but well worth the time spent reading it. If you’re a fan of originality and creativity, Destiny’s Anvil is the book for you.
About the book – from Goodreads: Will Guidry’s career as a backwater lawyer is going nowhere until he has a couple of beers with up-and-coming political operative Tucker Callahan, whose family’s petrochemical fortune instills in him a confidence bordering on hubris. As Tucker explains to his rudderless brother, Carter, “Guidry and I made a deal because he needed a miracle and I wanted to play God.”
Guidry rides Tucker’s political horse sense into the office of Louisiana’s Attorney General, while Tucker capitalizes on Guidry’s victory to bolster his own political reputation. But what should become a powerful alliance deteriorates into a bitter feud when Guidry tries to flex his political muscle and Tucker suspects he may have maneuvered a calculating sociopath into the marble halls of power.
Caught in the crossfire is Carter, the story’s narrator. Devastated by betrayal at the hands of his brother and the woman he loved for a lifetime, Carter watches the power struggle between Tucker and Guidry from the sidelines. Everything changes when he stumbles on the charismatic attorney general committing a monstrous crime, and finds himself drawn into the vortex of his brother’s private war.
Racing from a bungled execution through ruthless political payback, before culminating in a no-holds-barred courtroom showdown, the stakes continue to rise and Carter finds his small-town naiveté peeling away. Replacing it is a mounting dread of what will happen when the hammer of justice meets destiny’s anvil.
THE MERCURY WAS STILL HOVERING ABOVE NINETY when the three of us rolled up to the first set of gates at the state penitentiary in Angola. Climbing out of my car, I glanced toward the sun dropping over the cotton, bean and sweet potato fields that stretched unbroken toward the horizon. I wondered if the hapless bastard who had fewer than fifteen minutes left was gazing out a window, watching the last day of his life ebb toward eternal darkness.
I didn’t want to be there. I was twenty-six years old, secure in the prospect of at least fifty more years of a generous life, and didn’t want to see a man put to death before my eyes, no matter what he did. My brother Tucker had tried to worm his way out of witnessing the execution as well, but he couldn’t come up with an excuse that Will Guidry might buy. We both knew that over the previous fourteen years Will had worked up a hankering for blood that eclipsed any reverence he ever may have held for justice.
Two guards checked our names against their clipboard, opened the back doors of a cruiser and we got in. Without a word, they drove us through the prison compound to the no-frills building where Louisiana’s executions were carried out. We were led through several sets of barred doors until we reached a stark room with two rows of wooden chairs at one end and the electric chair at the other, maybe fifteen feet apart, maybe less.
The drifter who had raped and smothered Will’s kid brother Robby in the clearing of a cane field was already strapped into the chair and an electrode was being attached to his left calf. He watched the process, showing no emotion beyond detached curiosity. His expression didn’t change as his shaved head was straightened and a man wearing a threadbare black suit put a moistened sponge on the crown of his head and covered it with a metal skullcap. His eyes never wavered as he declined to buy final seconds with last words.
Father had told Tuck and me about how the dog, after nosing the sneaker around the drainage ditch, took off through the canebrake, how the three men looked at each other and started working their way into the thicket behind the dog, their hands and forearms collecting nicks and scratches as they hacked through the stalks of cane, how they were barely twenty yards into the cane when they heard the single bark followed by whimpers. I was later told that my father had been the first of the three to make it into the clearing, and that once he realized what he had stumbled upon, the only thing he could whisper was, “Oh, Jesus.” The dog’s chin was between its forepaws, and inches from the tip of its nose lay the second sneaker, still on the foot of Robby Guidry’s lifeless body. Even in the rose light of fading afternoon, the sock on the boy’s other foot glowed white, in stark relief from the blue jeans that had been yanked down to his ankles. A rivulet of blood had seeped out of his rectum, and was drying halfway down his left thigh. Once his face was pulled out of the mud into which it had been pressed, the parish coroner said he wouldn’t be able to tell if Robby had been strangled or forcibly drowned in mud until he got the body hosed off for the autopsy.
While the warden read the sentence in a bland monotone, the drifter’s eyes scanned across the faces on our side of the room. I felt myself shudder when his eyes locked on mine. He looked at me for an eternity that lasted less than a second, and my eyes followed his as he shifted them to his left and into the steady eyes of Will Guidry. Will’s face was stone except for the slightest movement of his lips, and I heard him whisper, “Fry in hell, dickhead.” Even though I knew there was no way the drifter could hear Will at that distance, I swear I saw him smirk at Will as a sweating guard stretched a black blindfold across his eyes before knotting it against the back of his skull.
The warden nodded his head and the electricity rocketed through the convict with the hiss and crackle of bacon in a dime store skillet. His hands tensed into claws as he dug his nails into the arms of the chair and his body thrashed against the leather restraints until thirty seconds had passed and the current was switched off. The silence was thick and underlined by the stench of smoldering flesh.
A doctor with a stethoscope moved toward the convict, but stopped once he realized the body would need a few seconds to cool down enough to touch. I let my held breath release and was gulping for any whisper of sweet evening air when the doctor looked at the warden and said, “He isn’t dead.”
Robby Guidry was only the murderer’s first victim. Three months after her son’s desecrated corpse had been discovered in the cane field, a disconsolate Marie Guidry had shoved her head in the family oven and turned on the gas. Having lost his wife and younger son within less than one hundred days of each other, Frank Guidry’s drinking ran away from him until the day that an increasingly withdrawn Will showed up at school with a shiner everyone couldn’t help but notice. The news of Will’s black eye hit my father particularly hard. Father was a good neighbor, the kind of man who always kept jumper cables in his trunk or saw to it that your garden was watered if you’d gone out of town and forgotten to ask anyone for help. I knew for a fact that Father felt acutely sorry for Will Guidry when he stepped up his regular prodding of both Tucker and me to spend more time and behave like brothers from the womb with Will. But Tuck was better at being an openhearted brother than I ever was, and as Tuck and Will became more like actual brothers, Tuck and I became less.
The second jolt was set to last a full minute, but I doubt thirty seconds had gone by when tongues of orange flame blazed from beneath the skullcap, followed by billows of steam and acrid smoke. A urine stain spread across the front of his pants, his skin bloomed scarlet as the temperature rose, and his body swelled to the point his flesh began to split. Blood streamed from his nose and mouth, and the smell of sizzling flesh mixed with the stink of where he’d fouled himself. I was ready to scream for someone to cut off the power for God’s sake when the room went silent except for the retching coming from Tucker as he lurched forward and vomit spattered on the waxed linoleum floor.
After letting the lifeless body cool, the doctor listened to his stethoscope, nodded and read the time off the wall clock in the death chamber. Two guards wheeled in a wobbly cart, on top of which was a state-issue coffin covered with a cheap, nubby fabric, while a third guard started to absentmindedly whistle between his teeth as he unbuckled the restraints. We were herded out with the other witnesses and taken back to our car at the prison’s main gate as the evening’s first stars pierced the twilight.
The emotional canyon separating me from Tuck had widened during our time at LSU, and I was neither surprised nor disappointed, in fact I was relieved, when Will Guidry realized he’d find more butter on my brother’s side of the bread than he ever would on mine. Hell, Will glommed so close to Tucker that people on campus started to snicker that Tuck was having the devil of a time trying to figure out how he might ever separate himself from his Siamese twin.
Following graduation, Tucker and Will had set off in search of stars beyond their reach while I returned home to New Acadia, a house that had grown empty during my time away and no prospects for any kind of meaningful work.
None of us had said the first word to each other since we pulled up at Angola, and I didn’t think any of us knew what to say after what we’d just witnessed. I glanced at the rearview mirror expecting to see a brooding Will Guidry, only to find one who was downright chipper as he said, “That was great. Let’s go find us someplace to eat.”
About the author: Steven Hicks came to Mississippi in 1974 and spent the next quarter century writing for various advertising agencies, including his own. He wrote commercials and print ads about hot dogs and other baloney, used cars, barbecue shacks, sunscreen, banks galore, white bread, undertakers, churches, casinos, turkey calls, finger-lickin’ chicken and symphony orchestras. Some of the work was thoughtful. Some was funny. Most was neither.
During that period of time, he earned the enmity of his competitors and peers by being named Mississippi’s top copywriter nine times, winning six certificates of excellence in the International CLIO Awards, over 150 ADDY Awards, Radio Mercury honors and being included in Who’s Who in American Advertising.
A major portion of his advertising and marketing income came through his work as a political consultant, engineering the media and messaging efforts for more than six dozen campaigns, culminating with the POLLIE Award for best statewide/national commercial from the American Association of Political Consultants in 1989.
While the embarrassing abundance of honors mean next to nothing to Hicks, the education he got through the process meant everything. He learned how to write what people like. He learned to write with economy and clarity, because consumers won’t buy things from long-winded peddlers of perplexity. He learned when words have to be polished and when they’re best left plain.
Through it all, people kept telling Hicks he should write books and he kept saying, “Maybe one day,” until the day came when a near-fatal stroke in 1997 forced him into an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with his own mortality, and he realized he wanted to be remembered for something more consequential than gimmicky commercials.
There was only one hitch. The stroke had taken away his ability to read.
For the next thirteen months, Hicks stubbornly stared at newspaper letters until he could form words, read sentences, then paragraphs, and finally had the ability to once again read novels, albeit at a far slower pace and with cognitive problems enhanced by lingering reading difficulties stemming from alexia, an aphasia problem caused by brain lesions.
It made the headstrong Hicks more determined than ever to take a shot at those novels people had been encouraging him to write for years.
Ten years and eleven revisions later came his debut novel, The Gleaner, a trans-racial romance set in a sleepy Mississippi whistle-stop. In a competition of 5,000 entries, The Gleaner was named a quarter-finalist in Amazon.com’s prestigious “Breakthrough Novel” competition. Upon its heels came two comic novels in 2009, The Fall of Adam, a satire of Deep South advertising, and Horizontal Adjustment, a farce about sexual escapades among competitors for a news anchor position in a tank town television station along the Florida Panhandle.
Deciding to take a breather from novels, Hicks started publishing New Orleans restaurant guidebooks on an annual basis in 2011, all of which have become mainstays on Amazon.com’s list of the 100 top-selling books about world dining.
In May of 2014, Hicks published his fourth novel, Destiny’s Anvil, which marked a stark departure from the breezy style of his earlier works.
“The final product is the polar opposite of the novel’s original intent. It is dark, violent bordering on savage, as it strips away the veneers of not only politicians, but the entire American political system. At the same time, it moves with the furious pace of a thriller overflowing with cliffhangers,” says Hicks.
Steven Wells Hicks currently resides in Jackson, Mississippi but is in the process of moving to New Orleans. To learn more, go to http://stevenwellshicks.com/.