The most important thing you need to know about this book is that Sharon Davies is a great storyteller. The tale of a Methodist minister who shoots and kills a Catholic priest for marrying the minister’s daughter to a Catholic in 1920’s Birmingham Alabama might sound dry as dust but in Davies’ capable hands is it almost Tolstoyan.
Rising Road takes us back to a time when the Klu Klux Klan traipsed around openly. Blacks were their most common target but second on their list were Catholics. They were joined in this hatred by a surprising number of political figures who built their careers on “warning” Americans about the “menace” of the Catholic Church. Not only did publications exist solely to carry this message it was also carried on in the editorial pages of major newspapers in Birmingham. In this atmosphere the trial of the minister takes place.
Writing as much as a novelist as a historian, Davies gives us several compelling characters: the Irish priest who defends his faith publically despite the risks, the minister who turns into “the marrying parson” after his career as a barber doesn’t work out, the daughter who converts to the faith her parents abhor and marries to escape them and the future Supreme Court justice who defends the minister. Even the chapters dealing with the trial, clearly taken from the transcript, come alive.
Oxford University Press deserves special praise for upping the game when it comes to academics writing for a popular audience. First The Day Wall Street and now Rising Road demonstrate that serious nonfiction need not be a chore to read.
Rising Road will satisfy history fans and discriminating true crimes fans as well. Highly recommended.