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Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite
Baby Moses by John Cowlin is a historical fiction novel set in rural Claiborne County in the South. After seven years away, getting an education and serving in the military, Moses takes the Greyhound home to his adopted granny, Miss Clio, a woman who raised him after he'd been found abandoned as a baby. As her health deteriorates, Moses prepares for the worst, devoting his time, energy, and love to Miss Clio, even as a crime spree rages around them. Harve and Enos have found that robbing a black church is a simpler way to make money than they'd initially thought and they carry on, despite having taken what they needed on the first shot. But when the two fall out and a child taken hostage from the church is beaten, raped, and left for dead, Moses and Deputy Boone refocus their efforts to make the perps pay.
John Cowlin delivers an absolute treat of a novel with Baby Moses, pressing forward a character-driven plot with a cast that comes to life. Cowlin achieves this almost entirely through dialogue, foregoing the usual information dumps in favor of the authentic voices of his characters, their emotional and physical responses, and trusting them to carry his narrative as we get to know them ourselves. The effect is wholly engrossing and accounts for one of the very best books I've read this year—which means more in 2020 when we've all been locked up for months. There's an incredibly visual element that Cowlin is able to create as we navigate the segregated American South, one where casual racism is more persistent than its overt partner, commingling in the community. A black pastor sitting on an empty bench at a gas station is told to move. A librarian calls the police when Moses reads quietly. A white cafe owner speaks of death at the hands of the Klan but then asks for quiet acceptance without retaliation. These are as deafening as the shockingly brutal crimes that fuel Moses's actions. Well done, John Cowlin. Very, very well done.