The Richmond Register

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March 28, 2013

‘Dark and Bloody Ground’ is a realistic saga of the mountains

Points East

PAINT LICK — I’ve just finished reading the best full-length novel by a Kentucky author that I’ve seen in a decade or longer. So good, in fact, that it’s hard for me to believe I’m just now hearing about it and that it has not had any mention in our big city and regional press.

Had it not been for an alert bookseller in Pound, Va., I probably would not have discovered “The Dark And Bloody Ground,” written by Roberta Hayes Webb and published by TurnKey Press of Austin, Texas, in 2006. It runs for 381 action packed pages.

 Please do not confuse this book with a 1993 work by Darcy O’Brien or other books with the same title. Any similarity begins and ends with the titles.

When I told Brenda Salyers, astute proprietor of Heritage Nook Books, there in Pound, that I’d read it, she had to point out the differences in authorship before I realized I hadn’t seen Webb’s book. And boy am I glad that Brenda is so persistent because this one has been a can’t-lay-down, up-all-night, page-turner.

 Webb’s book is a fictional account of the early discovery and settlement of the uppermost reaches of the Big Sandy River Valley near what is now Jenkins, in Letcher County.

The book traces the lives and adventures of four generations of the fictional first family, from 1800 through about 1950, to settle in the head of Elkhorn Creek, headwaters of the Big Sandy.

 The geographic settings and historical events are remarkably accurate. Despite a few name changes here and there and the liberal use of her poet’s license, readers of Webb’s tale has a consistently realistic sense of when and where they are.

Several of the Civil War episodes are literally hair raisers.

The reading experience is an emotional roller coaster ride that comes as close to capturing the Appalachian experience as anything I’ve ever read.

Readers familiar with and appreciative of our culture will find themselves at home — but do keep a handkerchief or a box of tissue handy on the one hand and be equally prepared to run to wherever you go when you’re terribly frightened. “Dark and Bloody Ground” is sometimes love story, sometimes thriller, sometimes action/adventure and always intriguing. And keep in mind, however difficult it may be at times, that you are reading fiction.

 The author, Roberta Hayes Webb, was born and raised in Burdine, where she walked to grade school before riding the bus to Jenkins High School from which she graduated in May 1945. Much of “Dark and Bloody Ground” is devoted to living in a coal camp and a company town. Suffice it to say the author knows of which she speaks.

 After high school, Roberta spent a brief stint in Oak Ridge, Tenn., as a lab technician on the team that developed the atomic bomb. In 1949, she completed a degree in psychiatric nursing at Knoxville General Hospital, by which time she was married to Dr. Jim Webb who was completing his residency in psychiatry at the University of Georgia.

 Both Jim and Roberta Webb enjoyed long, successful and storied medical careers throughout a marriage that lasted 59 years before Jim’s passing to the other side six years ago.

Along the way, they had four children and lived in Georgia, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina and Iowa before settling in Texas in 1967.

“Dark and Bloody Ground” is her first published novel and she is currently working on a sequel.

 If you do some math here, you will note that Mrs. Webb postponed her writing career until she was in her 70s. I am among those who would insist she should have started much, much sooner.

 You can get the book at Amazon, but if you want a truly personal touch, please visit Heritage Books Nook website, www.heritagenook.com, and give your business to Brenda Salyers. She is a wonderful lady who started her store in the early 80s to provide a sales outlet for local writers.

 Brenda now operates her business out of her living room at 8009 Main St. in Pound, where she stocks about 200 titles by central Appalachian writers.

 You can also read a more in depth synopsis of Roberta’s novel by clicking featured books when you get to the site.

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