Florida has largely escaped the opprobrium heaped on the other states of the old Confederacy, but it’s to the Sunshine State that King returns with a story of mind-boggling racism and cruelty ... King tells this complex story with grace and sensitivity, and his narrative never flags. His mastery of the material is complete ... King’s occasional detours into such subjects as the history of the citrus industry and Dr. King’s protests in St. Augustine (where he faced some of the ugliest crowds of his career) are welcome and illuminating. The author presents his tale as one of justice triumphing, of the good guys (and gals) coming out on top, of the arc of the universe bending toward justice.
...this book reads like a first-rate crime thriller, built on shocking plot twists and vivid characters and evidence of the darkest corners of human nature. But it’s not fiction ... Beneath a Ruthless Sun reveals a story that is horrifying to read but must be remembered. Willis McCall is dead, but the racism he embodied isn’t. Jesse Daniels is still alive. This extraordinary book’s story might have begun more than half a century ago, but it isn’t history.
Beneath a Ruthless Sun plunges the reader deeply into the legal practices, civil rights battles, and stubborn sexual inequalities of the mid-20th century, but this fast-moving and impeccably sourced book is anything but a slog. Truth oftentimes beggars belief, and the 'true' in 'true crime' can be a promise that betrays as much as it entices. Not so with Gilbert King's scorching, compelling, and — unfortunately — still entirely relevant new work.
Reese got ensnared in a tangled web of promising leads and dead ends — as does King’s book, which can get bogged down in the morass of Lake County’s unrelenting racism and squalid corruption ... This isn’t to say that King’s digressions are uninteresting, or even irrelevant. It’s just that combined with the baroque twists of the Daniels case, the book begins to get unwieldy. King, an amateur historian, has an appreciation for the startling detail and the circuitous connection. He’s clearly done his research, unearthing transcripts and talking to survivors ... Beneath a Ruthless Sun tracks the noble efforts of Reese, who is mainly presented here through her earnest editorials. No doubt Reese was not as one-dimensional as the upstanding figure in this book (in the Groveland case, King mentions, she had initially called for the execution of the defendants). But without a more riveting linchpin to anchor the narrative, Beneath a Ruthless Sun grows as sprawling as the conspiracy it depicts.
In Beneath a Ruthless Sun, journalist Gilbert King recounts this perplexing story with compassion and a vibrant sense of time and place ... King writes with consummate understatement ... a truly outrageous example of small-town Southern prejudice and malfeasance.
This book is every bit as gripping as the author’s Pulitzer-winning Devil in the Grove (2012), which explored an earlier incident involving McCall and Reese. McCall, who served as sheriff until the early 1970s, emerges here as thoroughly despicable, and Reese, who was a supporting player in Devil in the Grove, steps onto center stage here and captivates us with her determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Gripping history, vividly told.
Beneath a Ruthless Sun is multiple books in one – a gripping true-crime narrative, a deeply wrenching story of American bigotry and corruption, and an inspiring tale of heroes fired by love and righteous fury ... King's canvas is large and vivid. Among other topics, he examines attitudes toward insane asylums and he explores the bizarre contradictions of Southern attitudes toward miscegenation, infidelity, and rape ... When we face moral catastrophe in our own communities, this extraordinary book suggests there's a similar route to inspiration and comfort: Look for the women who refuse to yield.
King's reporting defies cliché with depth and specificity. He holds to verifiable facts and knows how to let a story and characters evolve ... the real power comes as King pulls back layer upon layer of the dark veils of complicity, revealing a history that is much darker than we might want to see — and much more current.
A spellbinding true story of racism, privilege, and official corruption ... The author draws on thousands of pages of unpublished documents, including court filings and testimony, hospital records, legislative materials, and personal files, to assemble this page-turner, suffused with a palpable atmosphere of dread ... By turns sobering, frightening, and thrilling, this meticulous account of the power and tenacity of officially sanctioned racism recalls a dark era that America is still struggling to leave behind.