Just released after serving a prison term for trafficking in crack cocaine, Roper Rackard is trying to repair the wreckage of his life while mowing fields and doing odd jobs for a rich white farmer in rural Georgia. But Whistle, Janice Daugharty's new novel, is the story of Roper's bad luck—ill fortune that begins when he finds the body of his boss's wife, who has died of natural causes, by the side of the road.
As the plot switchbacks through a succession of disorienting turns, the dead woman's shoe becomes a pawn in a treacherous game involving Roper's mother, his two sons, blackmail, drug abuse and confessions of secrets dating back to the civil rights movement. Despite a certain flatness of style and an unfortunate fondness for clichés of language and characterization—shortcomings that keep her prose from soaring—Daugharty does a fine job of demonstrating how ordinary men and women are affected, in unpredictable ways, by race, poverty and geography and by the enduring legacy of important historical moments. (Harper-Flamingo, $22)