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No Spark of Malice The Murder ofMartin Begnaud By William Arceneaux Louisiana State University Press, 1999 360 pp. Cloth $34.95 Whisper to the Black Candle Voodoo, Murder, and the Case of Anjette Lyles ByJaclyn Weldon White Mercer University Press, 1999 192 pp. Cloth $22.95 Reviewed by Frank Q. Queen, a Waynesville, North Carolina, lawyer whose only criminal trial ended in a hung jury twenty-two years ago, after which he retired from trial work—undefeated. He also is die uncredited author of "A Style Manual for die North Carolina Rules ofAppellate Procedure," published by the North Carolina Bar Association, 1999. Whoever said crime doesn't pay hasn't been in a bookstore lately. By the pink you know you're in the Barbie section at Toys R Us and by the black and red covers you know you're in the bookstore crime section. But Lord, who reads this stuff? Well—right now, I do. Crime is my life. I'm a lawyer. (All right, I'm a realestate lawyer—so we don't use guns, O.K.?) In No Spark ofMalice, William Arceneaux has appropriated the true-crime form to give us a historylesson. In Whisperto theBlack Candle,]adynWeldon White provides a simple and gruesome story, fascinating in its own way. Arceneaux has the better of it, perhaps because it is his family's story. He tells of the 1896 murder of Martin Begnaud (his great-great-uncle on his mother's side) at Scott Station, Lafayette Parish, Louisiana.Just asJohn McPhee lifts a pebble and speaks of mountains, Arceneaux quickly sets the stage, produces the body—and then figuratively asks: "What is this French-speaking man, his people from cold, distant Canada, doing in this suspect terrain?" The whodunit keeps us involved as he tells the story of the settlement of French farmers in Nova Scotia, beginningin 1604. They called itAcadia, after the Greek mythological paradise. They were seeking decent farmland, and they found mosdy bad weather. Over the next hundred and fifty years the Acadians comprised a visible (but not very profitable) French outpost in the new world. Eventually their territory Reviews 77 was ceded to the English as part ofa war settlement and they became, politically at least, English subjects. In spite of their new status they retained their language and insisted that they would remain neutral in conflicts between England and France. When the French and Indian War broke out in 1754, the Acadian neutrality and stubbornness provided all the excuse the English governor needed to order the wholesale destruction of the Acadian towns, farms, and livestock. The residents were rounded up and transported, mosdy to France and England. Martin Begnaud's people were in France when Spanish land promoters came through, promising free land and better weather in Louisiana, then Spanish territory . They eventually settled—exhausted, one imagines—in the Attakapas Prairie , the cowboy country ofwest-central Louisiana. They became farmers, cattlemen and ranchers in "New Acadia." They had been living in Louisiana a hundred years when Begnaud was killed. The murder was first blamed on a local toughguy and a traveling "Italian" grifter (who was actually French). They were jailed and tortured. In spite of one having his fingernails pulled out and both being half-starved, they inconveniendy refused to admit anything. There wasn't much to connect them to it, and, as the months passed, the sheriff's investigation was going nowhere. Disgusted, the family hired a sharp young lawyer to help the authorities. He questioned the family members in detail and one recalled that a pair of teenage brothers, French farm laborers, had left town shortly after the murder. Unsuspecting , these two returned to Scott Station on their own, nine months after the murder. Within a day, the family's lawyer tricked diem bom into confessions. (The initial suspects, incidentally, were released with a warm handshake from the sheriff, though one "was never the same.") The central mystery from this point is whether the prisoners are going to see the government's hangman or be lynched in die meantime. The sheriff, a stubborn man whose intention was to have the first legal hanging in Lafayette Parish, kept getting word...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 77-80
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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