Mike H. Mizrahi’s latest novel, Tattered Coat, is a brilliant work of historical fiction. Placed in Chattanooga, Tennessee shortly after the turn of the last century, it tells the story of Hickory, a ten-year-old boy who witnesses a rape and murder.
When Charles, a young Black man, is accused of the murder, Hickory knows he is innocent, but before he can tell local authorities what he’s seen, his alcoholic brute of a father forces him into the wilderness, miles from the city. Anna, a white woman from Atlanta who has been a friend of Charles’s family for years, returns to Chattanooga to lend support. (Fans of Mizrahi may recognize her as the protagonist in his earlier, The Great Chattanooga Bicycle Race.) Anna and Hickory join forces, but their every effort is deflected by the racist forces who run the city.
Mizrahi recreates the community as it existed more than a century ago in lavish detail. Not a scene goes by without an appeal to the senses that puts the reader into the story.
He brings to life historical figures like Arthur Ochs Sulzberger who, I had forgotten, owned the Chattanooga Times before he established the New York Times. Such touches show the attention to detail Mizrahi invested in this novel.
The writing is descriptive and at times lyrical:
How I wish we could retrieve the words we regret, somehow grasp them in midair, and shove them back in our mouths before they wound those we love.
Her long red hair, worn down and curled, make me wonder if Rose’s hair had burned with such fire before nature’s brush colored it.
[My] stomach reminded me that … I owed it a meal.
Such delights pepper the manuscript.
The story is told from multiple, shifting points of view, but the author never loses us. Each voice is important and distinctive. The characters are well designed and authentic.
The plot is carefully constructed, racing to a frightening, yet satisfying conclusion. This book is as close to un-put-downable as anything I’ve read in months. And while the story is set years before our own, the racism it so tellingly depicts makes it relevant to this age.
As a writer whose forthcoming book is also historical fiction with twists and mystery and romance, I appreciated Mizrahi’s skill and learned a great deal from his technique.
Read this book. You will not be disappointed.
– Jim Lewis, Reviewer, Reedsy.com/Discovery