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<< Back to The Do-Right

The Do-Right

The Beaumont Enterprise

Author transports you to 1973 Beaumont

Sit yourself on the edge of a bayou, cane pole in hand, and let author Lisa Sandlin cast a story for you. She might describe it this way:

Delpha Wade had returned to Beaumont in need of a job after spending 14 years in the women’s prison at Gatesville for manslaughter — a crime for which she had a good reason, but not good enough for the law to ignore. She scraped together enough of a presentation for a budding private investigator to take her on.

The year is 1973. It’s summer.

Tom Phelan had his fill of offshore rigs, having lost part of a finger in an accident — after all he’d been through in Vietnam as a medic.

He took out an ad in the local paper and Delpha showed up.

Into this setting, Lisa Sandlin’s new book takes off. The story is called “The Do-Right” a term for a lockup in which the inmates are told to “do right.”

Beaumont — the city itself — is very much a character in this noir novel of corruption, betrayal, morality and how it bends, but doesn’t break.

The population speaks the local vernacular, the places they go are real. The reader can hear the sounds, see the sights, droopy and sooty.

You can feel the air, swat the bugs, smell the humid sour sweetness.

You can revisit the J&J Steakhouse and its weird museum, "The Eye of the World," a carved confusion of the biblical and modern worlds.

You can stake out a crooked lawyer doing things he oughtn’t at a local hotel.

You can cruise on Concord Road in the night, spying drug addicts.

You can meet grande dames and not-so-grand broads as mysteries build and wasp nests get poked.

The story, released in October, is Sandlin’s fifth book. Cinco Puntos Press in El Paso commissioned the novel, which Sandlin completed in the summer of 2014.

Delpha lives in the New Rosemont Hotel, but it combines elements of the old Hotel Beaumont, said Sandlin.  

Her cover art is a photograph by Beaumont artist Keith Carter, a view from a hotel room that he titled "Blessing."

It’s a simple room with a bed, end table and window with a shade and string pull. It’s sparse, but the window is open. She’s back in the world, where there’s an outside.

Delpha is 32, having spent her life since the age of 18 in prison after plunging a knife into a man who was forcing himself on her. The part that irked law enforcement was how she had finished him off. A jury was unsympathetic.  

“I was young in the early 1970s,” Sandlin said, wanting to reflect that time in her life.

Sandlin is a 1969 graduate of French High School, which also was the setting of a previous work called "Message to the Nurse of Dreams," which was about the stirrings of public school integration and her friendship with the first black girl to attend an all-white campus.

Sandlin, who still has family in Beaumont, lives in Omaha and teaches a writer’s workshop at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

Sandlin said downtown Beaumont is a perfect "noir" setting because of the old buildings and the memories of who populated the downtown streets when she was young.

She said her story turns on its characters.

While some writers might build their mystery stories from the end with a solution and trace back to the beginning to add atmosphere and trails to nowhere, Sandlin said she prefers to imagine where her characters are going and takes them places.

The book is alive, its people are living, and the city is its own messy self.

Will there be more of Delpha and Tom amid the inter-related cops, lawyers, refinery workers, wheelers, dealers and stealers?

Sandlin said she’s deep into another story but hopes to reveal more of a Beaumont still tangible from across the decades.
  
- Dan Wallach, November 27, 2015  Visit Website

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