Bay Reads - July 2020
- Story by Anne Pitre
Rich. Complex. Intriguing. Satisfying. These are not just words I would use to describe my favorite coffee or my ideal significant other – they are what I would use to describe my latest read, entitled “Pearls,” the recently released novel by local attorney Chris Johnson.
This second novel by Johnson solidifies his place among the Coast’s best storytellers. I was fully engrossed in the world of its protagonist, John Hart, an attorney struggling to hold onto his law practice and his sanity. Following the tragic death of Hart’s wife, mother and unborn child, the supposed boss of the New Orleans mafia, Tony Vacarro, recruits the fictional lawyer to defend him in a murder case. Hart takes on the case because he is certain – almost – that Vacarro is innocent. The challenge comes with proving it, and proving to himself that he’s capable of moving to the next chapter of his life.
is sponsored by
This is a book that will allude to past events and seemingly insignificant details that make a big difference to the breathtaking way in which the story unfolds. Take your time through the beginning and pay attention, as all will be revealed in a most remarkable way in the end.
Local readers will also be engaged with the setting of the book. Although no particular Bay St. Louis establishment is mentioned by name – other than the Hancock Whitney on Beach and Main and the Hancock County Courthouse – the reader can’t help but imagine the scenes taking place in our celebrated local businesses. The same goes for the scenes that take place in New Orleans. It’s up to the reader to infer an exact location, but the author sets you up to do just that through vivid descriptions of detail and atmosphere. You will literally taste the sweet tea and feel the balmy evening breezes of the French Quarter as the characters in the book experience it.
It’s also worth noting that both the supporting and main characters will surprise you, although at first, they may bring to mind stock personality types we all know. There is Sid Fortenberry, the quintessential frat boy who never grew out of that stage; Sammy Ward, who despite his best efforts, peaked in elementary school; and Captain Fleming, a salty old sailor who drinks and runs his mouth to excess, but is far more intelligent than he ever lets on.
Finally, of particular significance is the title itself, “Pearls.” The pearl has an obvious meaning in the end of the story, but it is also deeply symbolic as it applies to all characters. Everyone - even those with a small part in the story - has overcome a challenge. Some were small and only mildly inconvenient, while others were profoundly tragic, becoming the type of formative experiences that defined who they are.
These challenges are to the characters like those tiny grains of sand that irritate the oyster. Like the oyster, these dear characters protected themselves, coating those painful experiences with layers and layers of nacre until they formed a beautiful, valuable gem. Some gems were used for good, others were put to more nefarious uses. But in each case they make the reader appreciate the characters for their individual complexities, their flaws and their greatness.
Overall, “Pearls” is a must-read for the summer, well worth the time invested. It is now available at most local booksellers, including Bay St. Louis’ own Bay Books, which will host a book signing with Chris Johnson during Second Saturday on July 11 from 4 - 5:30 pm.
We are hopeful and eager for Johnson’s next release.