Sunday 28 May 2017

At First Light by Vanessa Lafaye @VanessaLafaye @orionbooks @ElaineEgan_ #AtFirstLight

1993, Key West, Florida. When a Ku Klux Klan official is shot in broad daylight, all eyes turn to the person holding the gun: a 96-year-old Cuban woman who will say nothing except to admit her guilt.
1919. Mixed-race Alicia Cortez arrives in Key West exiled in disgrace from her family in Havana. At the same time, damaged war hero John Morales returns home on the last US troop ship from Europe. As love draws them closer in this time of racial segregation, people are watching, including Dwayne Campbell, poised on the brink of manhood and struggling to do what's right. And then the Ku Klux Klan comes to town...
Inspired by real events, At First Light weaves together a decades-old grievance and the consequences of a promise made as the sun rose on a dark day in American history.

At First Light by Vanessa Lafaye is published in hardback by Orion Books on 1 June 2017 and is the author's second novel.  I am a huge fan of Vanessa Lafaye's writing, I included her first novel Summertime in my Top Reads of the Year post and reviewed it here on Random Things in December 2014.

Whilst At First Light is a companion story to the author’s debut novel, Summertime, they are both wonderful stories on their own, and con most certainly be read alone.

Summertime was one of my favourite books of 2016 and I have been eagerly awaiting this second novel for a long time. I was lucky enough to meet the author some time ago and when she told me about the story behind her new novel, I was so excited. I have not been disappointed, as much as I adore Summertime, I have to say that At First Light is even better. 

When I closed the book I felt bereft at the thought that I would no longer be spending time with these extraordinary characters.

Inspired by and based on real events, At First Light begins in 1993, in Key West. It begins with the murder of an old man; a frail and elderly man, in a wheelchair. Shot at point-blank range, with a vintage Colt pistol. That pistol is shot be Alicia Cortez; ninety-six years old, mixed-race and previously of good character. It is a shocking crime, and Alicia owns up immediately.

Chief Roy Campbell is nearing the end of his career, he’s new to Key West, and when Alicia’s name is revealed as the killer, he is the only officer not to gasp in shock. Everyone else knows exactly who Alicia is ~ ‘La Rosita Negra’.

The story then goes back to 1919, as Alicia arrives in Key West as a young woman, exiled from her home in Cuba. With a failed, violent relationship behind her, and threats of death following her. At the same time, John Morales is returning from war in Europe. Battle worn, angry, bitter and haunted by what he saw, he’s a tough, no-nonsense sort of guy.

What follows is their story. The story of their unlikely relationship, accompanied by Minister’s son Dwayne Campbell and scarred giant Thomas, and how their determination to live and love without hatred and bigotry causes pain and sorrow, and tragedy for them and those closest to them.

Vanessa Lafaye creates beautiful imagery with her carefully chosen words. Her descriptions of Key West as it grows are vivid and colourful, the reader can almost smell the cow dung and the smoky bars. The sights and sounds are so realistic, with characters who are so powerfully created that they become almost human, part of the reader’s life.

The author exposes the evil that permeated the US, with the Ku Klux Klan taking a central role, and whilst this is a glimpse into the history books, it is quite frightening to realise the similarities to modern-day politics and world happenings that are going on all around us now.

At First Light is absolutely wonderfully written, it is seductive, heart-breaking and compassionate. At times is it almost unbearably moving, but it is always compelling.

A true love story, that is also an enlightening slice of social history. Vanessa Lafaye is hugely talented. I adore this book.

My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.

Vanessa Lafaye was born in Tallahassee and raised in Tampa, Florida, where there were hurricanes most years. 
She first came to the UK in 1987 looking for adventure, and found it. After spells of living in Paris and Oxford, she now lives in Marlborough, Wiltshire, with her husband and three furry children. 
Vanessa leads the local community choir, and music and writing are big parts of her life.

For more information about the author, visit her
Visit her Facebook page         Follow her on Twitter @VanessaLafaye

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