A Novel by Charlotte Corbin Barnes
©2019 Barnes and Barnes Video Productions
The story of Tom Dooley and the murder of Laura Foster is one that has fascinated people for decades. The murder of an innocent girl, and who was actually behind the heinous crime, is a mystery that continues to inspire storytellers the world over. Charlotte Corbin Barnes is no stranger to the Tom Dooley legend, having been fascinated by the story when she first heard the Kingston Trio’s version of the popular ballad when she was a child. She amassed a wealth of information about the story, interviewing many people, and gathering as much historical documentation as is possible.
The plethora of information became the basis for her previous book, the history/autobiography The Tom Dooley Files: My Search for the Truth Behind the Legend. Now, she returns to the tale with her first novel, Dooley! A work of historical fiction, Mrs. Barnes uses the novel to tell what she believes happened on that fateful day in May of 1866, and in the years before and after.
Dooley! begins in the late Winter of 1868, when newspaper reporter Albert Deane Richardson is sent by the head of the New York Herald down to Statesville, North Carolina to cover the hanging of Tom Dooley for the murder of Laura Foster. Richardson has other reasoning for covering the story: having escaped the Confederate Prisoner camp in Salisbury, North Carolina, he was aided in his efforts by the people of the mountains, including a young girl named Laura Foster. Having written about his exploits, he changed names to protect the people that helped him and others escape. But he wonders if his work got Laura killed. Upon arriving in Statesville, he learns that the hanging has been postponed upon appeal by Dooley’s defense attorneys. With enough time on his hands, Richardson decides to make another visit to the village of Elkville. Taking on the persona of a schoolteacher named Robert Cummings, he returns to the place where he and other escaped prisoners were hidden, to find out for certain who killed Laura Foster.
Dooley! works as both a fascinating work of historical fiction, and as a murder mystery/suspense thriller, as the main character searches for the truth behind one of the first highly publicized crimes of passion. Combining historical figures and situations within a fictionalized story, Mrs. Barnes crafts a real page-turner, as she presents all the facts surrounding the case, and presents her arguments for who killed Laura Foster, and why. The novel does take a while to get going, as it takes the first third of the novel to get Richardson from New York, to Statesville, and finally to the village of Elkville. The novel then gets both compelling, and emotionally involving, as we are introduced to the people of the area, and the mountain settings that are beautiful in their descriptions, but also hide grim facts behind a people unwilling to consider themselves the defeated in a terrible Civil War, while also hiding the truth behind a murder that shocked a state.
While a work of fiction, Mrs. Barnes’ painstaking attention to the true details of the story allow her to create a work that is believable, allowing for a unique interpretation of the Tom Dooley/Laura Foster story. In it, she gives her reasons for why she believes Tom Dooley was innocent of the murder, and tells who she thinks actually carried out the heinous crime, and why. Minor Spoiler: Mrs. Barnes also takes some great risks with the novel. The biggest being that the title character of the book doesn’t show up until the very end, as he prepares to face the hangman on a hill overlooking Statesville town. Spoiler Ends. The book is also suspenseful, as Richardson undertakes his investigation, while also keeping his real identity a secret, as others begin to suspect that he is more than just a schoolteacher wanting to educate the people of the town.
Overall, Dooley! is an exciting, suspenseful novel that takes a unique look at one history’s greatest true-life murder mysteries. Fans of both the Historical Fiction and Mystery genres will find much to appreciate in Charlotte Corbin Barnes’ wonderful novel.
Grade: 9/10 (A-)