From the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller Devil in the Grove, the gripping true story of a small town with a big secret.
“The perversions of justice under Jim Crow chart a devious path in this labyrinthine true crime saga… Packed with riveting characters and startling twists, King’s narrative unfolds like a Southern gothic noir probing the recesses of a poisoned society.” STARRED Review in Publishers Weekly
"A spellbinding true story of racism, privilege, and official corruption. … From the opening pages, King's narrative barrels forward, leaving readers wondering what it will take for justice to prevail. 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." STARRED Review in Kirkus
"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.” STARRED Review in Booklist
"Compelling, insightful and important,Beneath a Ruthless Sun exposes the corruption of racial bigotry and animus that shadows a community, a state and a nation. A fascinating examination of an injustice story all too familiar and still largely ignored, an engaging and essential read." —Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy
"In the tradition of Harper Lee, Gilbert King tells the story of a small southern town corrupted by racism, a perverse genteel honor, and utter disdain for poor “crackers.” Three women stand out in this gripping tale of a falsely accused man: an unrelenting reporter, a mother, and a victim doubly victimized as a pawn of others’ ambitions. In deftly unraveling a tragic mixture of lies, violence, and hatred, King powerfully reminds us how the unpalatable beliefs of 1957 haunt us still.” —Nancy Isenberg, author of White Trash
“Gilbert King’s stunning chronicle of race, sex and power in fatal combination yields so many truly tragic turns that it’s almost uncanny when goodness endures. With breakneck drama and cold clarity, Beneath a Ruthless Sun captures the sultry particulars of a uniquely charged place and time as well as a universal truth about how difficult it is for humans in the aggregate to do the right thing.” —Diane McWhorter, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama—the Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution
In December 1957, the wife of a Florida citrus baron is raped in her home while her husband is away. She claims a "husky Negro" did it, and the sheriff, the infamous racist Willis McCall, does not hesitate to round up a herd of suspects. But within days, McCall turns his sights on Jesse Daniels, a gentle, mentally impaired white nineteen-year-old. Soon Jesse is railroaded up to the state hospital for the insane, and locked away without trial.
But crusading journalist Mabel Norris Reese cannot stop fretting over the case and its baffling outcome. Who was protecting whom, or what? She pursues the story for years, chasing down leads, hitting dead ends, winning unlikely allies. Bit by bit, the unspeakable truths behind a conspiracy that shocked a community into silence begin to surface.
Beneath a Ruthless Sun tells a powerful, page-turning story rooted in the fears that rippled through the South as integration began to take hold, sparking a surge of virulent racism that savaged the vulnerable, debased the powerful, and roils our own times still.
Gilbert King was awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Nonfiction for The Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America, which was also a New York Times bestseller and a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. A featured contributor to Smithsonian magazine and The Marshall Project, King also writes about justice for The New York Times and The Washington Post. He lives in New York City.