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Publication: The Wall Street Journal
Date: August 19, 2005

Kings County, in the late 1950s, was an area outside Kansas City far enough beyond the metropolis to be rural, close enough to become the suburbs to which many city residents would eventually migrate.

Helping to turn those rural lands into residential tracts -- though hustle, manipulation and semi-cons “a few points shy of stealing” -- is Alton Acheson, a flamboyant real-estate man and self-styled visionary. “I know I got it in me to do something great,” he says of himself early in life, without irony. His regal nickname -- “The king of Kings County” -- is both self-mocking and poignantly aspirational.

Telling the story of this would-be tycoon in Whitney Terrell’s enthralling novel -- and of various other characters, rich and poor, black and white -- is Alton’s only child, Jack, whose adolescence coincides with his father’s most creative wheeling-and-dealing.

Absorbed in his own teenage quest for identity, Jack is by turns embarrassed by Alton’s defeats and achievements and admiring of them. A sudden death in Jack’s circle throws the fates of son and father together in ways that Jack will spend the rest of his life trying to figure out. )The last third of “The King of Kings County” flashes forward to the 1980s and beyond.)

“When you polish a story long enough,” Jack comes to believe, “you see outlines that you did not expect.” Most unexpected of all, for the reader, is the discover that time and Alton’s son may help make good an early prediction of the man who would be king: “Every man wants to be redeemed . . . That’s what Kings County and the suburbs are going to be -- redemption, purity.”