Phillip DePoy's December's Thorn

Actor, playwright, director, and author of two mystery series, Phillip DePoy is a man of many talents. He created the theatre major program for Clayton State University and became its first director (see his website for more autobiographical details). In 2002, DePoy won the Edgar Award for Easy, a play featuring a private investigator. His 7th novel in the Fever Devilin series – December’s Thorn – received a starred review from Kirkus in 2012.

The novel starts with a folktale beginning: “Five nights before Christmas, a stranger came to my door. She was dressed in widow’s black, pale and gaunt, and appeared to be half-frozen by the icy rain” (1). The narrator – a folklorist and former college instructor recovering from a coma – is shocked when this stranger introduces herself as his wife. Fever Devilin does not know who she is; even worse, he is engaged to another woman. Readers begin to wonder if the stranger is real or a figment of Devilin’s imagination. Or is there “a conjunction between myth and reality?” asks Kirkus. “Nobody is better at misdirection than DePoy.”

Readers are drawn into a strange and memorable story in which a sheriff, a young boy who claims to be Devilin’s son, and a psychiatrist all become enmeshed in a mysterious and danger-filled series of events.

The novel takes place in Blue Mountain, a small town in Georgia’s Appalachian Mountains. The atmosphere is both other-worldly and mysterious. The boundary line between reality and fantasy is blurred, a technique that keeps readers guessing throughout the entire story. The clever use of myth and folklore adds a rich layer of meaning to the narrative. Dr. Ceridan Nelsen, for example is described as “a fertility goddess, a poetic muse, and even, sometimes, . . . the Lady of the Lake in the Arthurian cycle” (22).

DePoy’s roots as a playwright are obvious in his skilful use of witty dialogue, particularly the clever repartee between Devilin and Nelson. Although associated with myth, DePoy’s characters are rooted in authenticity.

December’s Thorn will appeal to readers who love quirky characters, an otherworldly atmosphere, and mythic symbolism – but “fans of southern-gothic mystery will [particularly] love this one” (Alesi, 2012).

Alesi, Stacy. “December’s Thorn.” Booklist. December 1, 2012.

DePoy, Phillip. December’s Thorn. New York: Minotaur Books, 2013.