Book Review: Carl T. Smith’s Lowcountry Boil

Posted August 10, 2012 by Kathy Davie in

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Carl T. Smith’s Lowcountry Boil

Lowcountry Boil

on March 1, 2005 and has 395 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

A suspenseful story in small town Covington, South Carolina with the main theme involving the DEA and drug smuggling.

My Take

There’s a slow, lazy start to this story and reminds me of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series. Except the protagonist doesn’t drink, is no longer in law enforcement, and just doesn’t want to get involved.

I can’t imagine that the DEA really would put an agent in an area just because of vague rumors, so that premise is a bit far-fetched to my mind. And her ex-hubby has a lot more clout than the usual since it was her request to come down to the lowcountry on her own. Even if it does make sense to insert only one person. It’s just that there’s no information she can provide or find.

Smith does a good job of providing enough information to keep me satisfied while keeping Sam’s big secret on the back burner. It’s always there in the back of my mind that I want to know what has caused a man like him to isolate himself — I do want his house — but not so much that it’s all I can think of while I read. There’s a strong sense of right and honor in this character and my mind went veering down that black ops path. There’s a feel that Sam can protect himself, no problems.

I like the caution that Smith has Karen playing as well. It’s very believable although I suspect part of my wanting her choosing to take a chance on Sam was my romantic side wanting them to get together and not Smith’s writing efforts. I do appreciate Smith’s treatment of Brad Coleman. Phew…nice, with a twist.

Yeah, the story has its clichés: the sexually harassing, redneck superior at work, the poor but honorable black man, the poor AND dishonorable po’ white trash, the bad-guy men of power, the philandering weak husband, the wronged man, and clichés exist for a reason — they’re true. Of course, the sex, race, and class is interchangeable. Then there are the unexpected characters like Isabel who coldly sets out to take her husband down, the honest little boys who do a damned good job of surveillance(!) and playing it smart, the widow who is comfortable in her own skin — in every sense of the word, and the man who wouldn’t die.

If Bitta and Marvon are such great friends, how come Marvon doesn’t know who Bitta’s uncle is? Oh, please, poor Bill…he’s “being used”…

It is a bit odd, though, that for all the thought of food, there isn’t much mention of food. It’s more about houses — their architecture and how they sit on the land — and the countryside itself.

Come to think of it, the whole story is a lowcountry boil. Smith slowly adds the ingredients and keeps us on simmer until it all heats up.

The Story

There are whispers and possibilities in Covington and DEA Agent Karen Chaney is here undercover to test the waters. It’s not just the legal waters that she explores, however, as she gets under the skin of the town loner.

There’s the banker’s wife who’s finally had enough. The widow who knows her own mind and enjoys her complete freedom. The deep, yet low-key friendship between Sam and Skeeter. Then there’s Cedric. A decent man who fell into the trap of “why not me, someone else will take it”.

The Characters

The mysterious Sam Larkin has slid on into Covington, South Carolina and, when his funds ran low building his house, he hired on to teach biology. Well, it makes perfect sense once you know what his previous job was. He’s not interested in being anyone’s friend, just to be left alone. He’s been doing most of the work on his house since he ran low on money with some help from Skeeter. Mostly, though, he just wants to be with his books and painting.

Skeeter Crewes is Sam’s only friend and it’s a solid friendship, but nothing that requires closeness. He works when he can over at Harry Tom Cooper’s Boat Dock. Ettie is his upstanding wife. Marvon Jeffries and Bitta Smalls are best friends, thirteen and eleven respectively. And very, very clever. Even if Smith did have my heart in my mouth at times.

Karen Chaney is an undercover DEA agent at Fish and Wildlife. Ray Breslin is a South Carolina Environmental Resources Officer and Karen’s boss here in the area. Neil Dougherty is the supervisor and ex-husband who assigned her here. The Judge Thornton Hunnycuts of the world oughta be ashamed. Right along with the cops and lawyers involved!

Isabel Reichert is a very classy principal living precariously in her glass house. Bill is her philandering bank president husband. In name only. Cedrick Hamilton is a well-dressed, well-educated black man and superintendent of schools. His business as usual is gonna land him in some hot water. Morgan Hannah is a young widow happily living her life the way she wants its. No strings, no commitments.

Charlie Clay is a widower and a lawyer. Everything he built was to enjoy with his wife until she died. Now he spends most of his time with the Oyster Creek Inn, even tends bar upon occasion. Just lookin’ for a bit of excitement. Brad Coleman is a middleman, a very successful one. Turner Lockett fishes, shrimps, and hunts for his living. For the good life, he’s piloting smugglers through the bayou. Jared Barnes has worked with him shrimping, but now he’s askin’ too many questions.

The Cover and Title

The cover is black and white, sorta. A little over one-third of the bottom is black and showcases the author’s name while the less than two-thirds has the feel of one of those searingly hot days with its almost-white cloudless sky. That sky reflects in the low waters that form this landscape of bayou. Clumps of trees in the far distance, hummocks of grass up close, and more islands of grasses beyond the boats gathered in the waters. It’s a lazy, hazy cover that just gets you in the mood.

The title makes you think of eatin’ Cajun, boudin, and shrimp, but I think this Lowcountry Boil refers to the cookin’ that Sam and Karen are doin’ on a suspicious group of the high and mighty of Covington.