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Publisher's Summary

In 1919, Delano, Georgia, appoints its first chief of police. Honest and hardworking, the new chief is puzzled when young men start to disappear. But his investigation is ended by the fatal blast from a shotgun. Delano's second chief-of-police is no hero, yet he is also disturbed by what he sees in the missing-persons bulletins. In 1969, when Delano's third chief takes over, the unsolved disappearances still haunt the police files.

Author Stuart Woods' riveting novel spans three generations while also probing deep into Southern small-town attitudes and behavior. The residents of Delano, with their reluctance to disturb a familiar social order, provide the perfect backdrop for this tale of dark secrets and murder.

Over 40 years ago, Woods found a battered chief-of-police badge in his grandmother's house. It had belonged to his grandfather, who had been shot in the line of duty. The story of the lawman's death inspired Woods to write Chiefs, which won an Edgar Award and was made into a popular TV miniseries.

©1981 Stuart Woods; (P)2006 Recorded Books LLC

Critic Reviews

"A riveting story of the Deep South that mixes murder mystery with political intrigue." (Publishers Weekly)
"A fascinating, compelling tale." (The New York Times)
"The homey wisdom of [Hammer's] voice, coupled with Woods's engaging story, makes this audiobook memorable." (AudioFile)

What members say

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In my 'Top Ten' books of all time!

'Chiefs' completely blew me away -- who knew? I've read several of Stuart Woods other books, the Stone Barrington and Ed Eagle series in particular, and they were fine, nothing to really write home about. So I wasn't too excited when I saw this one on Audible. But? It was on sale, and it was long -- a prime requirement for me -- so what the heck? Why not?

Boy, was I wrong. "Chiefs" grabs you from the very first minutes and doesn't let go -- I literally cancelled two appointments this afternoon -- no way was I going to stop listening until I finished it. This was Katherine Stockett's "The Help" meets Robert Penn Warren's classic "All the King's Men", although arguably better than either. As a novel of southern culture, spanning three generations, as viewed through three very different men who served as chief of police in a small southern town, it's hard to imagine anything better than this one.

Few books draw you so completely into the character's lives as does "Chiefs". This is consummate storytelling. As each of the three segments finished, I was sad to see it end, figuring the next segment surely wouldn't be as good as the one I'd just finished. But I was never disappointed. Each was compelling in its own way.

It's really too bad it's being advertised as a "serial killer" book. Yes, that's an element, but that's sort of like saying that chocolate cake is about the sugar. Yes, that's an element, but that misses the point. This is a novel, not really detective fiction, as such. It's a story of courage and cowardice, of home and running away, of race, black and white, good men and evil scattered throughout. True, it's the 'killer' angle that ties the three administrations together, but that's really not the focus of the story.

I couldn't help comparing the whole situation to that of John Grisham. This was Stuart Woods first book -- written long before he published any of the more traditional detective fiction books he's more famous for. Yet "Chiefs" is so far above and beyond anything that Woods has written since, it's sometimes hard to believe it's the same author.

Same with Grisham. The first book he wrote -- "A Time To Kill" -- wasn't published until he'd already written and sold several other more traditional legal thrillers. Similarly, "A Time to Kill" is by far Grisham's finest work, although I'd admit "A Painted House" comes close in terms of literary merit. And also similarly, 'A Time to Kill" isn't really about rape and punishment, it's about the life and times of the people involved, the society in which these things happened. So it is with "Chiefs".

I know I will listen to this book again and again. If you haven't read or listened to it yet, you've got a real treat ahead of you. Don't miss this one. It's a classic.

65 of 66 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Absolutely Terrific!

I would have to say this is one of the best tales I have ever listened to, watched or read. The characters are authentic, realistic, engaging and compelling. The story is beautifully woven and draws you in to the suspense. Several nights running I stayed up until wee hours, not wanting to put down the player. The narrator was fantastic! He captured the personalities and emotions wonderfully. I don't usually carry on like this about a book or movie, but - if you're not familiar with this tale - don't pass this one by. (I understand it was actually made into a mini-series in the Eighties with some great stars, but I hadn't seen it at the time.)

37 of 38 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Slow Start but worth it!

The reading is so slow that if I had not been at work alone on a Saturday I probably would not have had the patients to stick with it through the first 2 hours or so ... but thankfully I did, once you get used to and in rythym with the reader, wow ... I didn't want to shut it off. Chiefs is definately one of my fave downloads so far ... now I want to find the movie that was made from it over 20 years ago.

26 of 27 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Susan
  • Bremerton, WA, USA
  • 05-24-08


It's like listening to a grandfather telling a tale. You want to move slowly, or not at all and absorb the story. This was good as a historical novel, as well as a murder mystery. Very enjoyable. I highly recommend for those who want a slowly unfolding story. Very relaxing.

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • C. Telfair
  • Shepherdstown, WV, United States
  • 04-07-14

Falling in Love

Yep, I fell in love with this book! With 2 of the Chiefs, with lots of other characters and a town, and especially with a narrator!

Narrator is too weak a description of what Mark Hammer accomplishes with "Chiefs". His voice seems relaxed and unhurried, but it conveys all the heart and soul of a small town called Delano and its residents. He's flat out fabulous!

The book, too, is a real find. I agree with all the reviewers who note that this is obviously a deeply felt, deeply personal work by Stuart Woods. As the section for each chief ended, I grieved and thought the next one couldn't possibly be as good, but each time I was wrong and got just as engulfed in the lives and cares of the next set of people. There are wonderful and sometimes surprising connections among the 3 stories. There's suspense, emotion, and a just-plain-good-old plot in "Chiefs". And a progression through the years which reflects perfectly the changes in all of America during the period from 1920 to 1963.

Everyone can relate to this story and to these people. And that's pretty much what a good book and a good listen should be, isn't it?

18 of 19 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


I was really upset when the book was finished - I had so enjoyed hearing about this slice of Southern Life. The story centers on crimes committed in a small Georgia town - but its main achievement for me is that it is also an amazing portrayal of human relationships, changing racial relationships, local, state and national politics from the Twenties to the Sixties as seen through the eyes of the local protagonists. Mark Hammer's warm narration made it an absolute gem! Go get it!!!!

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

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Heartfelt, loving, truly dramatic: Woods's best.

You can have your Stone Barrington, thank you very much. Just the name says phony and contrived. I have tried a couple of those, plus the others, Ed Eagle, Hothouse Whatever, etc. This is Woods' first book, and, IMHO, his best. It is worth reading the Wikipedia paragraph about this book. Woods would eventually become one of our generation's most prolific authors, making his publishers and agents quite rich, I am sure. However, much of what he has written since Chiefs is forced, formulaic, and designed to sell like hotcakes. Fine. Chiefs, though, seems clearly autobiographical, to the degree that many of the best writers' early works often do. The multi-generational story of Will Lee and the town of Delano, Georgia grabs you very quickly, and, without the modern tricks of hyped-up violence and scary suspense, Mr. Woods holds you with a tale that is completely genuine and passionate. He loves his characters, and we know it. Will Lee himself is a wonderful protagonist: we are almost immediately on his side, and Mr. Woods develops Will Henry's life (his friends call him Will Henry, out of Southern affection. The only man who calls him "Lee" is the loose cannon Foxy Funderburk, who is insanely jealous that Will was chosen as the first chief of police in Delano rather than him.)
The other characters are also fully drawn: Will's wife and family, the banker Hugh Holmes, who gambled big on the new town and got rich very quickly. One of the first scenes is Will's accidental arrest of two drunk rednecks who have robbed Holmes' bank. They come careening around the bank in a huge old Packard, or something, while Will happens to be holding an old, rusty Colt .45 just given to him by the town doctor and council member Frank Mudter. The whole town (a thousand people) calls Will a hero, and he is off to the races, albeit in a slow, gentlemanly Southern way.
Mr. Woods was born and raised in Georgia, and it shows. He is extremely fond of almost everything about the South. He depicts the racial/slavery issues with deep compassion. He understands the life of people who may live in this country but have little in common, it would seem, with most of us middle-class regular guys and gals (gals? I'm becoming a Southerner!). He also handles the issue of alcohol (Georgia was a dry state at the time of this book) with great skill and delicacy. Basically, every single thing about this book is wonderful. If you want the best of Stuart Woods, start here.
If you want the best of Mark Hammer, you could well start here too. His voice is just so mellow, slow and easy, never pushed or hurried, warmly funny and also very loving towards the characters. He manages a Southern drawl with ease and great skill. You just have to listen to him to truly understand the richness of an audiobook. Reading with the eyes is fine, but a great performer like Mark Hammer adds a unique dimension to the work.
I just plain loved every little thang about this book, and I surely hope that y'all do, too.

56 of 62 people found this review helpful

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  • Ted
  • Lancaster, PA, United States
  • 12-16-11

Genius! 5 Stars!

This is only the second five star book I've listened to (All The King's Men by the great Robert Penn Warren was the first). It is a masterpiece. First off.. the plot is watertight. A thriller murder mystery, political drama, and police procedural that holds your attention rigid throughout. But... while good enough, this novel is so much more than well crafted... it borders upon being one of the Great American Novels.

These characters are so spot on perfect. Deep yet simple... Good smack up against evil. Each side scores devastating punches. Frequently I gasped.

And the historic sweep is essential to every nuance of the developing ensemble. In fact the sense of place and evolving moment are.. well part of the ensemble each sewn together into a tapestry of emotion.

When the pitch-perfect reader Mark Hammer muttered... "The End"... I moaned, close to tears. "NO!" I exhaled, "You've got to take me farther along the development of the town of Delano. I need the next generation. Don't leave me." And yet... yet.... Stuart Woods ended at the perfect moment for my imagination and emotions to continue to ride the story arc on my own. I'll wonder now for the rest of my life about the Chiefs, their friends, and their enemies.

Art without wonder is merely craft.

Stuart Woods is our Robert Penn Warren. Hmmm... did I write "Borders upon being one of the great American novels?" Thats a very very very thin border. Yeah.... 5 stars!

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Fantastic !

For years I have listened to audiobooks on my long comute and enjoy most of my selections. Only once or twice have I had a book so bad I couldn't finish it, or on the other hand , found one I wanted to immediately hear again. Chiefs was one of the latter. I have gone through the whole book twice and listened to several sections multiple times. The story has everything from tradgety to comedy in a history of the old South. The narration is splendid and makes you feel you are right there...the fly on the wall. I rarely write reviews but simply had to praise his book.

30 of 33 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


As a black person born and raised in the north, with most of my adult life lived in California, moving to metro Atlanta about 15 years ago was quite a culture shock. Everything that I'd ever read about the south was still alive and kickin' in Georgia. I normally shy away from books about good ole boys, the Klan, and (the lack of) civil rights. But in "Chiefs", the south and the southern way of thinking is captured in a way that I have never come across in my life. Stuart Woods' descriptions of the people and the places puts the reader on Main Street. You feel as if you are an integral part of the community. And if you are African-American, you will find yourself getting pissed off, while looking furtively over your shoulder out of sense of survival because Woods makes you think that the Klan is right outside your "shack"!

It was hard for me as a black person to keep my mind on the story, to keep everything in the proper perspective - that was then and this is now. I kept losing my place because I would get my "black back" up, allowing my intellect and reason to recede in the background. I can't begin to report on how white people take such stories - are they ashamed or do they just believe this is the natural order of life. Who knows? I don't. But if everyone just puts their personal feelings - good or bad - on the shelf, this will be one of the most amazing rides that a reader can take. It is only made better by the amazing vocal talents of narrator Mark Hammer who can be both soothing and menacing but always with the "bless your heart" tone of the true south.

This is about crime and deception and sexual depravity - all of the same things that we experience everyday in 2008. Sit back, get a glass of good bourbon or iced tea (sweet, of course!), and take a trip back to the early 1900s. Nothing has changed in this country. I'm not referring to the state of race relations - I'm talking about good old crime storytelling.

67 of 75 people found this review helpful

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  • Allan
  • 01-30-07

A wonderful audiobook

I have just listened to Chiefs and cannot recommend it too highly; it works both for lovers of a great detective story and those who like a very good story, beautifully narrated.

Like many of the books I've chosen since joining Audible, this is yet another author I seem to have missed - much to my regret - but I certainly cannot wait until next month when I will listen to the same author again.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Sarah
  • 10-11-07


Over the past couple of years I have listened to a constant stream of crime and thriller audiobooks. Though most are enjoyable, there are very few that stand out as memorable. This is one. It is a well written and beautifully read. It made an impression on me to an extent that I remember the plot and characters and enjoyed the fact that not all the ends were tied up at the end. I can recommend this as a truly entertaining download.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 12-23-12


Great book to listen to. I was impressed with the several stories which the author effortlessly assembles in one book. Inevitably, the book is lengthy, but all story lines deserve to be told. Emancipation of afro americans in the south, small town living and a gripping murder story evolving through the years, it all blends together. Since listening to this book, I am a fan of Stuart Woods.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Tom
  • 10-18-07

A very fine book and superbly narrated

I've not much to add to what other reviewers have said. This is a very fine book indeed, and works on three levels - as a first class thriller/detective story, as a thoughtful novel of the Deep South's painful evolution from racism, and a very convincing picture of how a town evolves and grows over time. Despite its length, the book never slackens in pace or lose the interest.

The narration is really fine too - apart from a rather clunky English accents for one of the characters, but this is only a minor point.

Strongly recommended.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Georgia
  • 01-20-17

Georgia heat

Would you consider the audio edition of Chiefs to be better than the print version?

Haven't read the print version but the reader, Mark Hammer, brings the atmosphere alive with his slow, southern delivery. Perfect.

What other book might you compare Chiefs to, and why?

In the Heat of The Night
To Kill a Mockingbird

Which character – as performed by Mark Hammer – was your favourite?

Henry Lee

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?


Any additional comments?

A really good story beautifully read.

  • Overall
  • Amazon Customer
  • 03-06-12


First rate in every respect, wonderful writing wonderful narration and a complete absence of padding. I just did not want this book to end.

  • Overall
  • Ian
  • 07-01-10

Excellent book

one of the best

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  • Wendy
  • 09-13-07

Wonderful listen

I was a bit unsure if I would enjoy the political side of this, but it is brilliantly narrated and written. I tried to make it last, but was unable to let go of the ipod as the plot unfolded.
If you do not listen to this you have missed something special.

  • Overall
  • Sara
  • 05-01-07

Soft and hard

A fascinating listen. It starts gentle and entices you with the story of a small town at its origins, then just as you are drawn into the characters the vice starts to turn and the darkness underneath comes out. Three times you learn to like people then learn to fear for their lives. Three times the social history of America at the grass roots is exposed. Well worth listening to.

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  • Angela
  • 04-21-07

What a pleasure

There is nothing of this book I would not recommend: content or narration. The author's knitting together of the crime, the decades, racial issues and three of the town's police chiefs was compelling. There was no point in any of the hours and minutes of listening to this book when I did not care what would happen next. This was also thanks to the beautiful narration. Southern American accents have never been my favourate but I might now have to change my mind.

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  • lola
  • 04-28-17

A true page turner

Wonderful story line but I found the narration very hard to listen to some times.