In this lengthy tome, author Ken Ollis sets out to tell the tale of a young man who seeks to break free of a life of poverty through means that may well cost him everything.
Both a success story and a cautionary tale, the story begins in the midst of the Great Depression as the young Millard Watson and Flora Holland meet and fall in love. Millard makes a vow early in life to rise above his humble beginnings and give Flora and their children a life of abundance.
It is not without struggles. They are so poor upon marriage that they must live with Millard’s family, and two years pass before Millard can find steady work. But he is an ambitious and hardworking man and eventually his efforts lead him to sign on with Walter Stamey, a “true Southern gentleman” who is building an empire in high-quality moonshine whiskey distribution. Finally, Millard is on his way to the riches he’s envisioned. But when the Chicago mafia appears seeking its share of the spoils, it’s not long before bloodshed ensues.
This is an ambitious story with a great amount of detail. But that detail can also be a weakness. While the story is intricately plotted, it is often too much so. Scenes that go on for pages might have easily been summarized in a few narrative graphs. There are times when the dialogue and language feel stilted, though that might be a product of the period and place.
That aside, this would likely please many readers (albeit patient ones), particularly those with an interest in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the colorful history of the era.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.