Wow! I loved this book! James McBride’s “Deacon King Kong” is a historical fiction about the Fall of 1969 in The Cause, the Red Hook Project in Brooklyn, New York. It is the start of the heroin drug wars in New York. Sportcoat, a deacon in the local Black church, comes up to the aspiring drug dealer in The Cause and shoots him, setting off a chain of events affecting people through the project.
The story describes the time and setting of the period and area. Black Americans came up from the South, fleeing sharecropping farms in droves to take up residence in a poor neighbor previously filled with Italian and Irish immigrants who took seasonal work on the docks in Brooklyn. The previous generation was marred by race and cultural clashes between the immigrant populations in New York and the coming storm was drug wars over neighborhoods to sell heroin.
There is some mystery and humor in this story which lifts it above your average historical fiction. A Nazi-plundered relic from Austria was brought to New York by an American army soldier, and hidden away. There is intrigue about where it is, where it is hidden, by whom and why that unravels throughout the story of the often-drunk Sportcoat’s last days.
The main themes of the book revolve around history, about who came before you and what you “inherit” in the way of your own circumstance. There were some themes of love and respect between partners. There is also a theme of expectations and hope for when you leave one place and come to a new place, and the reality of what happens when you get there.
McBride’s character development and the setting that he portrays in the novel are both vibrant and full. There is a real sense of knowing the place and the characters. When the book concluded, I literally clapped in applause for how splendidly McBride brings closure to the story. This was a real treat!