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William D. Darling is a lifelong storyteller and very nearly a native Texan, arriving in his beloved state as an infant in 1942. His first novel, Morgan’s Point, introduced readers to both the mid-‘60s rough-and-tumble world of the Houston courts where Darling came of age, and the Galveston Bay region that has long fascinated him. His latest novel, Anahuac, serves as a sequel to Morgan’s Point as well as its own fascinating tale. Darling, who has lived within the legislative bustle of Washington, D.C. and in the peace of a Central Texas ranch, currently resides in Austin, where he and his wife have built a long-standing law practice.
William D. Darling
Canned Peas Productions
Paperback, 978-19746-4540-4 (also available as ebook), 278 pages, $14.99
October 2, 2017
Austin writer William D. Darling’s second novel, Anahuac, is an entertaining, engrossing legal thriller that offers both darkly humorous and good-natured thrusts at life, love, and law in early 1970s Texas. Some brief bits of Gulf Coast Texana also help set the scenes.
A young lawyer takes on a case that snowballs into a death-penalty murder trial in Chambers County, just after he has gone into private law practice in La Porte with his barely reliable best friend and the best friend’s stunning wife.
Anahuac’s protagonist, Jim Ward, previously appeared as a young, green Houston assistant district attorney in Darling’s 2016 first novel, Morgan’s Point. In Anahuac, Ward has grown up a little bit—he’s now 30 years old, living in a big, hurricane-impervious house, and enjoying (or at least tolerating) many of wealth’s comforts. He’s married to Cooper Faircloth, daughter of Taylor Faircloth. “Oil man, publisher, and political king-maker were but a few of his titles,” Darling writes.
Readers who haven’t seen the 1967 hit movie The Graduate might want to check it out while reading this well-written novel. In Anahuac, Jim Ward remains inspired by memories of Dustin Hoffman driving a red Alfa Romeo sports-car convertible at high speeds once he decides to go after the woman he loves and seek the meaning of life. Ward’s wife, Cooper, however, is much more practical. “I’m not having you drive down Interstate 10 at seventy miles an hour in a paper sack,” she tells him. She insists he drive a much heavier, more lawyerly Lincoln Continental, a choice that does improve his survival chances in sudden, windy Gulf Coast storms that dump blinding rain.
Meanwhile, Ward’s new client, the Rev. Randall Clay, a money-grabbing Arkansas radio evangelist, seems unconcerned about being arrested and charged with murdering one of his listeners. Shortly before her violent death, an aging Anahuac widow with money and nearly 13,000 acres of ranch pledged her estate to Clay, cutting out her “slug of a nephew.” But the reverend also happened to be staying at the widow’s ranch house at the time she was murdered.
Clay tells Ward he’s innocent but has decided to turn his fate over to God and a Texas jury, continuing his ministry inside prison, if necessary. Meanwhile, the case becomes national news, and many of Clay’s listeners descend upon the small town of Anahuac.
If that isn’t enough for Jim Ward, he also has to deal with three strong women—his wife, his best friend’s wife, and Ward’s former girlfriend, now a TV reporter. In the early 1970s, many men still think a woman’s place is in the home. Jim Ward, fortunately, is learning better, the hard way.
A few typos pop up; sharper proofreading would have helped. But William D. Darling’s writing skills are solid. Anahuac is first-rate reading, especially for readers who enjoy legal thrillers, lawyer procedurals, suspense, Texas settings, and characters who live large.
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