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Publication: Seattle Times
Author: Irene Wanner
Date: September 25, 2005
Like his notable first novel "The Huntsman," Whitney Terrell's second book is set in his home town of Kansas City, Mo. This story moves from the 1950s to 2004, a generous sprawl of rapidly changing times whose most colorful character is less the narrator, Jack Acheson, than his rascal father, Alton, whom his son dubs "the king of Kings County."
Jack, an ordinary teenager as the book opens, chronicles his school days, inept romances and gradual growing up, and at the same time includes Alton's embarrassing get-rich schemes, which sometimes involve the father and son not only with the fabulously rich Bowen family, but also with underworld connections. These currents of corruption swirl around Jack, who just wishes his dapper dad - Alton's favorite outfit is a yellow linen suit and white shoes - could "be a success without me."
Alton plans to strike it rich by purchasing land to resell for huge profits when the first interstate highway is built through Missouri. Good idea. Problem is: no money. Jack's dad tries to raise some cash by wangling his way into a salaried position with the Bowens; getting mixed up with the mob; and then selling homes to blacks in white neighborhoods, helping to create white flight, poverty-stricken public schools and the decades-long death of downtown Kansas City.
Jack does what any kid with a misbehaving parent does: He hangs out with pals until he graduates from high school and can run away to college, then law school, then a New York job. But many years later, family ties draw him home.
Terrell's characters are wonderful fun. His grasp of hometown history lends a deep, sobering backdrop to Alton's antics. Near the end, a couple of farfetched events weaken an otherwise impressive novel, whose slow-going opening half finally pays off in a big way.