In July of 1920, Nettie Wynn, age seven, drove with her family from Mooretown, the non-white section in the town of Lynwood, Louisiana. Such trips were rare for the Wynns, but on that day, they were to deliver a meal to a friend who was gravely ill. At the last minute, Nettie’s mother wanted to stop for an item at a store in Lynwood’s downtown square. Nettie was told to wait in the car, but, being curious, was drawn to what seemed to be a celebration that had drawn a large crowd. The sight she came upon, however, was strange and frightening – a black man, a noose around his neck, hanging from a large oak tree. Her father snatched her up and they raced back to their car, taking the back roads to Mooretown.
Seventy-four years later, Nettie is still living in the family home, “a modest, tidy, one-story brick rancher” where she had been born. One day in February, she finishes her breakfast, has her vitals taken by the home health care worker that visits her regularly, reads, and makes some calls to friends. During the night she wakes from a deep slumber to see a cross burning on her lawn. As firemen fight the blaze, Nettie falls to the floor, suffering a heart attack.
The cross in Nettie’s front yard isn’t the only one set that evening by Frank Daniels, a member of the Klan. He also selected a synagogue and a mosque. But Nettie is the only one who suffers a serious injury. Nettie’s granddaughter, Nicole DuBose, is in Washington, D.C., on assignment for The New Yorker magazine, when she receives the call about her grandmother. She quickly changes plans and arrives in Mooretown.
Also in Washington is federal civil rights prosecutor Adrien Rush. Spotting the blurb in a newspaper about what has happened he, too, is soon on his way to Lynwood. FBI Special Agent Lee Mercer is assigned to the case and sets up a war room in a windowless space in one of Lynwood’s federal buildings. Rush, who is white, and Mercer, who is black, make up a committed pair, but because of their different backgrounds, are often at odds. What they do agree on is that they want the person who lit the crosses caught and brought to justice.
Because of the nature of the crime, law enforcement immediately zeroes in on the Klan and soon Daniels is arrested and confesses. But the case isn’t a slam dunk and will take all the expertise and hard work Rush, Mercer, and their team can deliver.
Nettie turns out to be the most important witness, not only because of her status in the community as a longtime resident, but because of her spirit, calm nature, and her charitable and forgiving attitude. Rush is drawn to Nettie and soon drawn to her granddaughter, Nicole. His feelings towards the two women raise the stakes and put pressure on him that any failure will have personal as well as professional consequences.
No Truth Left to Tell is Michael McAuliffe’s first novel and he has the bona fides to pull it off. A practicing attorney for more than 30 years, he was a federal prosecutor serving both as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Florida and an honors program trial attorney in the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. And he has certainly selected a topic, racism, that is dominating the headlines in the run up to the 2020 presidential election. No Truth to Tell is an absorbing read with flesh and blood characters – the good, the bad, and, yes, the ugly – that tells an important story that is as current now as it was in 1994.
No Truth Left to Tell
Photo of Miichael McAuliffe by Sydney McAuliffe