The Secret of Magic… by Deborah Johnson

I truly have been busy between the move and doctor appointments and have fallen behind with my reviews and interviews alike, but I’m hoping to get back on track soon. Last night, while many were collectively relaxing following their Thanksgiving dinner, I finished reading The Secret of Magic, by Deborah Johnson.


Opening the mail for her mentor and employer, Thurgood Marshall, at the NAACP office in New York, Regina Robichard is captivated by a letter from famous southern author M. P. Calhoun, asking for an investigation of the murder of a young black man, Joe Howard Wilson. Robichard is a fan of Calhoun, having read her book about a magical forest and an unsolved murder. As a stand-in for Marshall, Robichard travels to Revere, Mississippi, to find out the truth behind the murder of Wilson, who was among scores of black men returning from the war, unwilling to put up with the humiliations of racism. What she discovers are parallels between life in Revere and Calhoun’s book. How much of the book is real, and how does it connect to the murder? Inspired by her grandfather, who fought in WWII and was a huge admirer of Thurgood Marshall, and her own admiration of Marshall colleague Constance Baker Motley, Johnson (The Air between Us, 2008) offers a completely engaging southern gothic with unforgettable characters in this fictionalized account of a pivotal NAACP case from the 1940s.


The Secret of Magic is a book within a book. Although my initial thoughts were that such a stylistic choice would be hard to follow or confusing, my initial impression was wrong.


The Secret of Magic

First, the pros:

The author’s voice and style. Much of her prose is poetic. The flow and delivery of the story is smooth and melodic.

The setting. The author sets up 1946 rural Mississippi well enough to take us there without an overload of detail to take away from the story.

I enjoyed the fact that the read and the book within ran parallel, not too much of the book within the book to become daunting. Johnson flawlessly shared the pages of her novel between a whimsical land and the harsh realities of 1940’s rural south.

Characters. My favorite part of the book was its characters. They depict the true south, the way it was during that period. It was a time when white and blacks alike knew their place, and obeyed the unwritten rules on the surface, but held each other in regard on the inside. Racial issues have always been a source of contention and the author successfully portrays the issues of that period.

Now, the cons:

Everything seemed to tie up too neatly. The guilty parties admit to their crimes almost without provocation. Granted, during that period they never dreamed they’d have to pay for what they’d done, but for a white man to tell a black, female attorney from New York just for the sake of telling her – not very believable. Another example, Peach knows to give the jail key to Regina and Regina just happens to need it. I also thought it was a bit predictable, but still enjoyable.

The Secret of Magic was definitely worth the investment of time and the pros far outweighed the cons. If for no other reason, read it for the author’s style and the characters. They won’t disappoint.

k.e. garvey (formerly known as Kathy Reinhart) is the author of the award-winning Lily White LiesThe Red Strokes, and Missouri in a Suitcase.


About K.E. Garvey

Gather 'round and let me tell you a story... View all posts by K.E. Garvey

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