From the Delta Mud, by Guy Wheatley, is a slow-paced story about a group of characters living in a small town on the shores of the Mississippi river. None of the characters are particularly compelling or interesting, and although the author gives us a lot of detail about their daily lives (a LOT of detail), I can’t say that we really get to know them well or understand them. The central “character” of the story is an abandoned river barge filled with bags of fertilizer. The barge, and the fertilizer, is as much the story as Tom (the first guy who finds it) or Gibb (the attendant at the Lock on the river who finds it later). Tom and Gibb are the central human characters, along with Marshall, a small-time politician whom Tom wants to kill. The story never moves along and it’s a struggle to get through the book. While there is some good writing and description at times, the pace is so slow, and the ultimate climax so predictable, that the reader is left wondering what the point was for the 350 pages.
The prologue illustrates the issues. First, it’s way too long. There is some well-written description, but it’s unrelated to the story and not needed. Twenty-five pages later, the reader knows that there’s a barge filled with fertilize abandoned in a hidden backwash on the side of the river where Tom can later stumble on it. As exciting as the author tries to make the story of how the barge got there, it’s just not worth 25 pages. Plus, the prologue is rife with editing problems – poor grammar, bad punctuation, misspelled words, misused words (pain instead of pane) and sloppy language. Mr. Wheatley really needs an editor, but even a careful proof-read or running the text through a grammar and spelling checker would catch most of these obvious errors, which detract significantly from the enjoyment of the read. The body of the book has fewer obvious errors, but enough to notice, which is too many.
One hundred pages into the book, there’s no clear plot – we’ve met the main characters, and we have a general idea that Tom is thinking about making a bomb (although not clear why) and we’ve met Marshall, who is running for President, but we don’t have any idea what the relationships are (if any) between the characters or why we should care. All we know is that both Tom and Gibb have visited the barge, and there’s fertilizer involved. By the end, the reader is so starved for some action that the dramatic climax is welcome, but it fizzles out rather than blasting us off into a state of excitement.
Mr. Wheatley has the potential to be a good writer if he can find a more compelling plot and avoid the temptation to over-describe everything. When he gets there, I’ll be interested in reading it, but as for this one, I’d advise giving it a miss.