“Chiefs” by Stuart Woods

Woods, Stuart. Chiefs (1981)   
Avon Books, 427 pages, $5.99 paperback  
ISBN 0 380 70347 5


One benefit to discovering a prolific author with one of his later works is that you then have the pleasure of going back and reading all his earlier books as well.  I first discovered Stuart Woods in 1996 with Under the Lake (1987) and Choke (1995). In reading Chiefs, his first novel, I’m reminded of what makes Woods such a compelling writer: he is a consummate storyteller who combines compelling characters with interesting plots to create books that are as intriguing as they are believable.

Chiefs tells the story of three police chiefs in the rural town of Delano, Georgia. Book One presents the story of Will Henry Lee, who leaves his unprofitable farm to become Delano’s first police chief in 1919. In Book Two we meet Sonny Butts, who is hired as a Delano police officer in 1946 during the effort to provide veterans with civilian jobs. In Book Three Tucker Watts becomes the town’s first black police chief in 1962 after retiring from a military career.

Several threads unify this story, which covers more than 40 years. First, there’s the town itself, which we watch grow. Second, several characters appear throughout the book, most notably Hugh Holmes, the town banker and one of the original founders of Delano, and Billy Lee, son of Will Henry Lee. Finally, there’s a recurring mystery that occupies all three of the police chiefs in this fine first novel. 

Chiefs, Woods’ first novel, won the Edgar Allan Poe Award and established him as a novelist.

© 1998 by Mary Daniels Brown

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