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Publisher's Summary

Named a Best Book of the Year by NPR and The Washington Post

"Compelling, insightful, and important, Beneath a Ruthless Sun exposes the corruption of racial bigotry and animus that shadows a community, a state and a nation. A fascinating examination of an injustice story all too familiar and still largely ignored, an engaging and essential read." (Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy)

From the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning best-seller Devil in the Grove, the gripping true story of a small town with a big secret.

In December 1957, the wife of a Florida citrus baron is raped in her home while her husband is away. She claims a "husky Negro" did it, and the sheriff, the infamous racist Willis McCall, does not hesitate to round up a herd of suspects. But within days, McCall turns his sights on Jesse Daniels, a gentle, mentally impaired white 19-year-old. Soon Jesse is railroaded up to the state hospital for the insane and locked away without trial. But crusading journalist Mabel Norris Reese cannot stop fretting over the case and its baffling outcome. Who was protecting whom, or what? She pursues the story for years, chasing down leads, hitting dead ends, winning unlikely allies. Bit by bit, the unspeakable truths behind a conspiracy that shocked a community into silence begin to surface. 

Beneath a Ruthless Sun tells a powerful, pause-resisting story rooted in the fears that rippled through the South as integration began to take hold, sparking a surge of virulent racism that savaged the vulnerable, debased the powerful, and roils our own times still.

©2018 Gilbert King (P)2018 Penguin Audio

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
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  • Gillian
  • Austin, TX, United States
  • 04-26-18

As In The Beginning, So GoethThe Entire Book

And by that I mean: We start the book off with Jesse, our victim/hero, and get a sense of whom he is, his childlike ways and mental capacities. Then we digress like crazy to the weather, citrus princes, Blanche's childhood, the love who was shot down during the war, some of the culture of the area and Florida in general. Really, it takes quite a while before we get back to the main story.
That's how all of Beneath a Ruthless Sun is. Main story, digressions to various civil rights members, civil rights activities, the sheriff department's ruthless ways, atrocities committed against the civil rights movement, a little about Mabel, some about Jesse and his mother Pearl, more atrocities, and on it goes.
Fortunately, King is such a good writer, writes in such an emotionally evocative manner, that I was engaged throughout, barely noticing I'd gone down a rabbit hole with him until he brought the story back to the main people, the main point. (Also, I've never read/listened to Devil in the Grove so I can't tell just how much is lifted from it per se, but that crime, those victims are covered in GREAT detail here too).
Farr does a decent job with the narration--doesn't strive overmuch to make verbal/vocal distinctions between genders, so no growly men, no high-pitched women to distract from it all.
All in all, I spent 14+ hours interested in the subject matter and really, really interested in the people. It is shocking; it's outrageous, and in the end, I wonder if justice truly was served and if lost years were made up for.

15 of 19 people found this review helpful

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wow... awesome book!!!

a definite most read.... especially for Floridians!what an awesome book! so very sad, and eye opening...a movie should be made about this, as well as the even more tragic groveland boys case. I was born and raised in Florida, and I never realized how racist and dirty some of these small towns could be! it breaks my heart, and makes me ashamed to be from Florida!

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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History lesson

Narrator fine, story has too many detours and this represents more of a history lesson than true crime.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Too Long

This very compelling story suffered from too much detail. The author could have shaved about 25%.


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Outstanding!

Gilbert Kings thoroughness and attention to detail almost makes this feel as if you're listening to a documentary. This story is so enthralling and sheds further light on how corruption flourishes when good people do not act and how an individual can make a difference. Willis McCall's brutality, racism and bigoted actions strike again.

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Disturbing but eye-opening

Beneath a Ruthless Sun is a fascinating read. It left me angry, frustrated, yet hopeful. If you liked King’s Devil in the Grove or Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann, this is the book for you.

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Painful Truths

This true story is an informative read, at the surface level it is the story of an injustice. Read deeper and your realize its the story of the impact of institutional biases and how their impact manifests itself. If you enjoyed Devil in the Grove, this is an absolute must read.

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infuriatingly good

this book gave me a migraine because of the absolutely preposterous nature of what actually happened. I can't believe this is a real story and I absolutely can believe this is a real story.

as for the book itself it referenced a prior book and case on the Groveland boys so often that if you happened to pick this one up first you'd be lost to the references, as when mentioned or rarely went into details. I thought that was poor. also, story wise it felt like it skipped around and told a lot of other stories at once, but I reasoned that it's to paint the picture of one of the last bastions of the old south.

the heroines of the book, Mabel and Pearl, and the star Jesse, were fantasticly captured. a mothers love taking up with a deeply held sense of justice together fought the law and, eventually, won.

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Disturbing!

As someone who grew up in Florida during this time, this was an eye-opening, disturbing, true account of the injustices perpetrated on African Americans in Florida. It also told of the tireless and valiant fight by a few to right these wrongs and find justice.

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Read this book immediately!

Stop what you’re doing, and pick this book up immediately. Just when you think justice will prevail, it’s slaps you back down.