Hand Upon The Waters by William Faulkner, 1939
The magic trick:
Turning what could’ve been a simple who-dun-it into a deep, affecting story
For the second day in a row we have Faulkner elevating a genre riff into something approaching high art. Yesterday, it was the deceptively complex comedy of “A Bear Hunt.” Today, he does his best Agatha Christie in “Hand Upon The Waters,” a murder mystery that also manages to encompass a memorable slice of southern life.
He does so with three angles: One, he makes the Lonnie Grinnup character the picture of innocence, immediately eliciting feeling from the reader. Two, the investigator, Stevens, too is a sympathetic character; heroic even. And three, the conflict between the Brothers Ballenbaugh is intense and interesting.
With such strong characters across the board, the mystery can’t help take on deeper shades and meanings. And that’s quite a trick on Faulkner’s part.
At first Stevens did not know what Ballenbaugh was about. He watched in mounting surprise as Ballenbaught turned to face his brother, his hand extended, speaking in a voice which was actually harsh now: “This is the end of the row. I was afraid from that night when you came home and told me. I should have raised you better, but I didn’t. Here. Stand up and finish it.”
“Look out, Tyler!” Stevens said. “Don’t do that!”
“Keep out of this, Gavin. If it’s meat for meat you want, you will get it.”