Kings of Coweetsee tells the story of a people and place challenged by change.
Birdie Barker Price, a former schoolteacher and recent widow, heads the Coweetsee County Historical Society, located in the old jail in the remote mountain county. She is the keeper of county history and loves to sing old murder ballads she learned from her great Aunt Zip. She’s grieving the loss of her second husband, Talmadge Price, who documented the county’s many barns before he got cancer.
Birdie discovers a mysterious box left on her porch – a ballot box that was never counted in the contested 1982 election. Maurice Posey had won 30 years ago and served unopposed as the county’s sheriff until he was convicted on federal vote-buying charges.
Birdie seeks the advice of her first husband, Roy Barker, one of Posey’s former deputies, who is running against an incumbent and outsider Frank Cancro, who was appointed to fill out the disgraced Posey’s term. Roy still carries a torch for Birdie, who ran off with the hippie newcomer Talmadge. He hopes in becoming sheriff, he can reclaim the county’s past and his purpose.
Birdie also frets about Charlie Clyde Harmon, a convicted felon, who has returned to town after a lengthy sentence for arson at a Black church in which a deacon died. Charlie Clyde maintains his innocence, insisting he was framed by the former sheriff Maurice Posey.
Birdie’s friend, Shawanda Tomes, an African American quilter, is a faithful member of the church that has since been rebuilt on a million-dollar insurance policy, but she finds it impossible to forgive Charlie Clyde for his crimes.
Harmon has a dark history. As a teenager, he intentionally ran over a drunk in the road. To get him off on a lighter juvenile record, his aging parents sent his two younger sisters to be “married” to the county’s powerbrokers. Deana and Rhonda Harmon later returned home, scarred by their experience, and forever haunted by the local gossip. Rhonda became a wild party girl with many lovers, and gave birth to a daughter, but she never revealed the daddy’s identity.
The novel builds toward the November election and a crucial fundraising event that gathers all the county’s characters, leading to revelations about hidden crimes. The women who have suffered and sang ballads about their woes begin to take their revenge against the supposed Kings of the county. Birdie makes her peace with her own past, passing along the old ballads of survival.
Novelist, journalist, aficionado of all things Appalachian.