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The Tannery - Book Review

Michael A. Almond debuts his first novel, The Tannery, a slow burn work of historical Southern fiction, murder-mystery, and legal thrills that blur the lines between the past and the present, and fiction and nonfiction. Published in 2021, Almond’s expert writing takes us across the Southern landscape of Wilkes County, North Carolina. Dancing between characters and timelines, Almond weaves an engaging story of complex proportions that is both historically accurate and riveting.

In the Summer of 1900, the daughter of a prolific tannery owner is found dead by the North Carolina Yadkin River with a skinning knife through her heart. All signs, including the murder weapon at first glance, point to a young mixed boy, Virgil Wade. However, young lawyer and Governor’s protégé, Ben Waterman has other ideas about what really happened that night by the “swirling waters of the Yadkin.” Determined to save young Virgil from becoming another victim of the growing racial violence in the South, Waterman launches his own investigation full of dramatic twists, unexpected turns, and groundbreaking research.

The novel is split into two definitive sections: The Murder and The Trial. The first section builds upon the regional history and the lives and families of the main characters as they build relationships with each other and the case. These relationships (both negative or positive) and friendships are one of the most charming parts of the novel, and each character truly feels deeply human. Each character exhibits their own unique flaws and charms, so much so that one may open a history book and be unsurprised to find Ben Waterman’s smiling face printed there. However, the novel really explodes into page-turning action as the second half of the story takes readers through the nail-biting trial of Virgil Wade. Almond sets scenes so well that it feels like you are a part of the trial, secretly listening in on the hushed conversations of the politicians, businessmen, and lawmen as they butt heads and strategize over the fate of the young boy.

Almond makes it very clear that he is not only a well-read writer but a well-read historian as well. His use of both expert language and suspense ropes readers in, and before you know it you're hooked. By inserting his own unique characters into the real history of the Post-Reconstruction South, Almond weaves a narrative that moves fluidly in and out of fact and fiction and genuinely succeeds at both. The enigmatic main characters of lawyer Ben Waterman and his confidant, newspaper owner Roscoe “R.E.” McGee pair well with the frighteningly familiar villains of prosecutor Vincent Taliaferro and the Red Shirts of the South. The young, shy character of Virgil Wade mirrors so many unfortunate victims of racial prejudice in the past, but also, sadly, in the present. The violent injustice in the novel, as well as the presence of unwelcome vigilante justice, strikes an all too familiar chord in the hearts of present-day readers.

If there was ever a time to read this debut historical novel, it would be now, and as Almond quotes Maya Angelou in the intro to his book,

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

Michael Almond will be discussing the historical background of his novel, his characters, and the region the novel is set in at the Arts Building, on February 24, 2022. 6:00 PM. Tickets are $15. To register, go to

Michael A. Almond is a retired international business attorney and was raised in the small town of Pilot Mountain in the Piedmont foothills of North Carolina. He received his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was a Fulbright Scholar in political science at the University of Mannheim, Germany. His accomplishments as an attorney and experience in business law make him an equally accomplished businessman and author, giving him “the heart of an author, and the mind of a historian.” An avid reader of Southern history and literature, Michael finds his passion writing about the rich history of the South. He and his wife Helen Ruth reside in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina with two horses, three donkeys, and their canine companions, Lucy and Greta. The Tannery is his debut novel.

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