On a night no one will ever forget, Della Black and three of her seven children are killed in a horrific fire in their trailer. As the surviving children are caught in the middle of a custody battle between their well-intentioned neighbor and their father and his pregnant mistress, new truths about what really happened the night of the fire come to light. When the fire marshal determines the cause – arson – rumors quickly circulate as the townspeople search for answers. Ronnie Black is the kind of man who can leave his wife and children for a younger woman, but is he capable of something more sinister?
Ronnie and his girlfriend, Brandi Tate, maintain his innocence – he’s a loving, caring father who wants to do everything he can to protect his family. But as the gossip continues, Ronnie feels his children (and, eventually, Brandi) pulling away from him. Soon enough, he finds himself at a crossroads – should he allow gossipmongers to seal his fate, or should he fight to prove that he’s not the monster people paint him to be?
In LATE ONE NIGHT, Lee Martin examines the devastating effect of rumors and the resilience of one family in the face of the ultimate tragedy.
Pulitzer-finalist Martin delivers a taut, satisfying mystery about people "bound by their stupidity and their love." In small, rural Goldengate, Ill., Della Black and three of her children die when their trailer home burns down. Four other children survive. Townspeople gossip about Ronnie, Della's estranged husband, who had been at the double-wide on the afternoon of the fire to confront her about divorce papers she'd served him. After the fire marshal rules arson, everyone assumes Ronnie is guilty. With deft switches in point of view, Martin slowly reveals what happened that fateful winter night. His characters are complex and believable, from Della's elderly, bereaved parents to Angel Black, the eldest of the surviving children. Brandi Tate, Ronnie's pregnant girlfriend, is sure about love, which "pole axed you, clubbed you right between the eyes, and knocked you silly," but little else, including Ronnie's guilt or innocence. The story masterfully explores adult desires and disappointments, the fierce love parents have for their children, and children's yearning for familial bonds. Martin has a keen ear for the language of rural Illinoisans, sprinkling in phrases like "snort and holler," "love on you," and "skinny-Minnie of a thing." This is a compulsively readable novel about the bonds of family and community.