Cover image for The scribe : a novel
The scribe : a novel
First edition.
Physical Description:
292 pages ; 22 cm
Investigating a series of murders targeting post-Civil War Atlanta's wealthiest black entrepreneurs, a disgraced former detective partners with the city's first African-American officer in a case marked by fierce racial, political, and personal tensions.


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"It's a whodunit with a twist...a heady mix of history, sizzle, punch, and danger. A definite keeper." --Steve Berry, New York Times best-selling author of The Patriot Threat

After leaving Atlanta in disgrace three years before, detective Thomas Canby is called back to the city on the eve of Atlanta's 1881 International Cotton Exposition to partner with Atlanta's first African American police officer, Cyrus Underwood. The case they're assigned is chilling: a serial murderer who seems to be violently targeting Atlanta's wealthiest black entrepreneurs. The killer's method is both strange and unusually gruesome. On each victim's mutilated body is inscribed a letter of the alphabet, beginning with "M." The oligarchy of Atlanta's most prominent white businessmen--the same men who ran Canby out of town, known more openly before Reconstruction as "the Ring"--is anxious to solve the murders before they lose the money they've invested in both the exposition and the city's industrialization, even if resolution comes at the expense of justice.

After Canby's arrival the murders become increasingly disturbing and unpredictable, and his interference threatens to send the investigation spinning off in the wrong direction. As the toll of innocent victims rises, Canby must face down enduring racism, and his own prejudices, to see clearly the source of these bloody crimes. Meanwhile, if he can restore his reputation, he might win back the woman he loves.

With scrupulous attention to historical detail, Edgar Award finalist Matthew Guinn draws readers into a vortex of tense, atmospheric storytelling, confronting the sins and fears of both old South and new.

Author Notes

Matthew Guinn 's first novel, The Resurrectionist, was a finalist for the Edgar Award. A native Atlantan, he now lives with his family in Jackson, Mississippi.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Set in Atlanta in 1881, this superior whodunit from Edgar-finalist Guinn (The Resurrectionist) stars Thomas Canby, a former detective on the Atlanta Police Force, who lost his job after a false accusation of taking bribes. When someone murders barber Alonzo Lewis, "the richest Negro in Atlanta," severing his head and carving the letter M on his forehead, Canby's old boss recalls the disgraced detective. The powers that be have suppressed the news, as the city is relying on the success of the International Cotton Exposition to revitalize municipal finances. Another wealthy African-American is killed soon afterward, but this time the letter A is left as the killer's mark. Canby, who is white, partners with the city's first African-American police officer, Cyrus Underwood. Since Underwood was the first to find both dead men, he himself is an obvious suspect, but the plot takes numerous turns before the final, painful resolution. The richness of the characters and period detail make the prospect of a sequel welcome. Agent: Emma Sweeney, Emma Sweeney Agency. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

When a serial killer slaughters two well-known African American businessmen in Atlanta in the fall of 1881, a group of city business moguls known as the Ring moves to protect their investment in the upcoming International Cotton Exposition by pressuring police to quickly solve the case and quash public fear. Despite shady dealings a few years earlier that left detective Thomas Canby a jobless pariah, Canby's former boss begs for his help in finding the murderer, whose crime scenes nauseate even veteran cops. Canby pairs up with Atlanta's first African American officer to solve a senseless homicide, combat his bad reputation, and overcome racist reactions to his partner, essentially working off the books to avoid public outcry. This is an absorbing historical mystery filled with evocative period detail, a brooding atmosphere of corruption and pervasive evil, and compelling characters who could be developed further perhaps in a sequel. Readers will be reminded of Erik Larson's Devil in the White City (2003) and the distinctly southern, melancholy tone of James Lee Burke's Robicheaux series.--Baker, Jen Copyright 2015 Booklist

Kirkus Review

Graphic gothic horror and 19th-century American caste politics meld with unsettling force in this (often literally) scorching whodunit. It is the autumn of 1881 in the American South. President James Garfield is dead, and so is Reconstruction. The city of Atlanta wishes to mark its gradual ascent from the ashes of its Civil War ravishment-by-fire with its International Cotton Exposition, which may even include a visit of reconciliation from its one-time scourge, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman himself. But just before the festivities begin, police find grotesquely mutilated corpses of African-American entrepreneurs with capital letters carved into their foreheads. Desperate for a quick, timely solution, a cabal of prominent businessmen, known as "the Ring," discreetly hires a discredited, disillusioned ex-Atlanta detective named Thomas Canby to investigate these bizarre serial killings. Since the Ring's suspicions settle primarily on the city's segregated black population, Canby is aided in this task by pious, prim Cyrus Underwood, Atlanta's first duly authorized constable of color, who Canby soon finds is a lot steelier than he seems. And they both soon find that there's far more to this gory series of murders than meets the eye, as white corpses, each with foreheads bearing bloody single letters, join the black ones in what another character likens to a accursed "spelling bee." Guinn's previous period mystery, last year's The Resurrectionist, was an Edgar finalist for its thoroughbred-racing momentum, and with his conscientious attention to historic detail, and vividly ghoulish imagery, he could conceivably cross the finish line with this ripsnorting follow-up, an intricately woven page-turner whose subtext of class and racial animus ingrained in the American psyche reinforces James Joyce's assertion of history being the true nightmare from which it's impossible to awaken. Imagine a sequel to Birth of a Nation as conceived, written, and directed by David Lynch. Too much of a stretch? Wait till you see whoor whatis behind the mayhem. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

Race, money, power, and scandal make for a potent brew in 1881 Atlanta. Disgraced detective Thomas Canby is brought back to investigate the ritualized murders of two Negro businessmen. Both were prosperous enough to have invested in the upcoming Exposition, which is intended to showcase the city as the forerunner of the New South. Both had letters carved into their foreheads, as did the ambitious prostitute who is killed the night Canby returns to Atlanta. The business community wants this solved pronto, but is this a fight within the black community, or something more sinister? Why was the Jewish upstart from Brooklyn framed to take the fall? Canby is teamed with Atlanta's first African American patrolman, who also becomes a suspect in the process. The action moves between the burgeoning city and the villages on the outskirts, ending in a thrilling railroad chase scene and an assassination attempt on a prominent American. VERDICT Guinn's (The Resurrectionist) latest, a mix of exciting and gruesome, will appeal to readers who like crime combined with history. Some, however, may find the ending frantic and inconclusive. [September LibraryReads pick, p. 111.-Ed.]-W. Keith McCoy, Somerset Cty. Lib. Syst., Bridgewater, NJ © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.