Chiefs (Woods)

Stuart Woods, 1981
Penguin Group USA
432 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780451215802

For the people of Delano, Georgia, 1920 was a landmark year. That winter they elected their first police chief, built the first jail...and discovered the first body—the naked, brutalized corpse of a young boy. So began a forty-year manhunt that would embroil three generations of small-town police chiefs in the dark, twisted secrets of their sleepy, God-fearing community—and expose a seamy underbelly of hatred, corruption, and perversion too terrible to imagine...and too virulent to ignore.

Beginning in 1920, Chiefs spans 40 years, chronicling the experiences of three Georgia police chiefs who watch the world, their town and their jobs, change. At the heart of this incredible read is a 40-year-old mystery each chief must try to crack. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Manchester, Georgia, USA
Education—B.A., University of Georgia
Awards—Edgar Award for Chiefs, 1981; Grand Prix de
   Literature Policiere for Imperfect Strangers, 1995
Currently—lives in Key West, Florida; Mt. Desert, Maine;
   New York City

Stuart Woods was born in 1938 in Manchester, Georgia. After graduating from college and enlisting in the Air National Guard, he moved to New York, where he worked in advertising for the better part of the 1960s. He spent three years in London working for various ad agencies, then moved to Ireland in 1973 to begin his writing career in earnest.

However, despite his best intentions, Woods got sidetracked in Ireland. He was nearly 100 pages into a novel when he discovered the seductive pleasures of sailing. "Everything went to hell," he quips on his web site "All I did was sail." He bought a boat, learned everything he could about celestial navigation, and competed in the Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race (OSTAR) in 1976, finishing respectably in the middle of the fleet. (Later, he took part in the infamous Fastnet Race of 1979, a yachting competition that ended tragically when a huge storm claimed the lives of 15 sailors and 4 observers. Woods and his crew emerged unharmed.)

Returning to the U.S., Woods wrote two nonfiction books: an account of his transatlantic sailing adventures (Blue Water, Green Skipper) and a travel guide he claims to have written on a whim. But the book that jump-started his career was the opus interruptus begun in Ireland. An absorbing multigenerational mystery set in a small southern town, Chiefs was published in 1981, went on to win an Edgar Award, and was subsequently turned into a television miniseries starring Charlton Heston.

An amazingly prolific author, Woods has gone on to pen dozens of compelling thrillers, juggling stand-alone novels with installments in four successful series. (His most popular protagonists are New York cop-turned-attorney Stone Barrington, introduced in 1991's New York Dead, and plucky Florida police chief Holly Barker, who debuted in 1998's Orchid Beach.) His pleasing mix of high-octane action, likable characters, and sly, subversive humor has made him a hit with readers—who have returned the favor by propelling his books to the top of the bestseller lists.

• His first job was in advertising at BBDO in New York, and his first assignment was to write ads for CBS-TV shows. He recalls: "They consisted of a drawing of the star and one line of exactly 127 characters, including spaces, and I had to write to that length. It taught me to be concise.

• He flies his own airplane, a single-engine turboprop called a Jetprop, and tours the country every year in it, including book tours.

• He's a partner in a 1929 motor yacht called Belle and spends two or three weeks a year aboard her.

• In 1961-62, Woods spent 10 months in Germany with the National Guard at the height of the Berlin Wall Crisis.

• In October and November of 1979, he skippered a friend's yacht back across the Atlantic, with a crew of six, calling at the Azores, Madeira, and the Canary Islands and finishing at Antigua in the Caribbean. (From Barnes & Noble.)

Critics Say . . .
Pre-Internet works have few, if any, mainstream press reviews online. See Amazon and Barnes & Noble for helpful customer reviews.

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Chiefs:

1. Chiefs is as much about life in a small southern town as it is about solving crimes. Talk about the town's journey from racial bigotry to acceptance and integration of the black and white communities. How might that journey have mirrored the larger US society?

2. Discuss the town's political climate. Who wielded power in the town, and how did it impact residents and the work of the three police chiefs?

3. Discuss the differences, or similarities, between the three eras: 1920, 1946, and 1963—and the three chiefs? Do you have a favorite, preferring one over the other?

4. Did you find some of the language/dialogue offensive? What about the treatment of African-Americans? Was it gratuitous (sensational), or necessary to further the plot?

5. While the villain may be obvious early on, how does Stuart Woods maintain suspense throughout the novel? In other words, what keeps you turning the page?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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