In the still-segregated town of West Mills, North Carolina, in 1976, three enigmatic siblings are found shot to death in their home. The crime is the first reported murder in the area in decades, but the white authorities don't seem to have any interest in solving the case. But Miss Josephine Wright has just moved back to West Mills from New York City to retire and marry a childhood sweetheart, Olympus "Lymp" Seymore. When she discovers that Lymp is one of West Mills's leading suspects, she sets out to prove his innocence.
... a murder mystery that doubles as a savvy examination of race and class ... “Decent People” practically turns its own pages, creating in the reader an insatiable curiosity that matches Jo’s own. Winslow proves able to simultaneously drill down and step back, letting the details add up and weaving the grievances of one character into the next until you don’t know whom to trust.
Watching Winslow subvert the conventions of an old literary form is half the thrill of this novel. After all, the shelf of mystery detectives is hardly crowded with 60-year-old Black women. And that’s not the only cozy convention Winslow toys with. There are corny cliffhangers, yes, and Winslow is liable to toss off bits of pastel fluff ... But Josephine’s amateur sleuthing draws her deep into the tangled racial history of West Mills ... Winslow further complicates that history by exploring the way racism is entwined with homophobia ... The larger social context that Winslow explores is what moves this story beyond one crime into a reflection on the myriad unacknowledged crimes committed across decades.
Winslow's novel has a bothersome structural division ... I found Decent People an entertaining, relatable story and Winslow an engaging storyteller. Still, some characters feel underdeveloped, a few plot threads are left dangling and Savannah and Eunice compete to replace Jo as the book's protagonist. And although Winslow set the story in 1976, the book doesn't lean far into the zeitgeist ... By the time I finished the novel, however, I realized the details of the era... were less important than the social attitudes Winslow uses to frame the story.