A guest review by Sirius
Summary: Well written story about inquisition hearings in Florida University.
Jacksonville, Florida – It doesn’t take much to destroy careers, pull families apart and ruin lives. A mix of ignorance and hatred, combined with an insatiable lust for power, will suffice. And in Florida, circa 1960, that unholy mix fermented in the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee, a.k.a. the Johns Committee.
Using blackmail, intimidation and coercion, the Johns Committee—led by segregationist state senator Charley Eugene Johns—managed to “disappear” more than 300 suspected homosexual students, faculty and administrators from Florida’s public colleges, universities and schools.
Julian Earl Farris’ novel The Sin Warriors uses the treachery of that time to explore themes of self-knowledge, love, loyalty and resilience. Echoes of Johns can be seen in the demagogue Billy Sloat, a small-town Florida politician who climbs to statewide office over the backs of the disenfranchised and disfavored. Exploiting the fears and mistrust of his constituents, Sloat launches a McCarthy-era witch hunt targeting gays and lesbians in academia under the premise that these “weak links” could be used by communists to infiltrate schools and corrupt students. Caught in the maelstrom, student David Ashton, another product of small town Florida, and his friends try to preserve their integrity and their futures.
I am sure you can see from the blurb, but in case it is not clear, this book is NOT a romance. As the blurb states this book is based on very real events that took place in Florida in the 1950s – 1960s – the activities of the Johns committee. I knew who Senator McCarthy was and his role in American history but I never heard of these events before I read this book. These “lovely” people apparently had a “great” example in front of them but concentrated their witch hunts on gay and lesbians in the University of Florida and apparently throughout the whole state. Careers, lives of the innocent people destroyed only because … I do not know why, to be honest with you. Honestly, I am not exaggerating here, but every time when I read another book, see a movie about people trying to make lives of fellow human beings worse than they already were because those human beings are different in some way from them – ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation- my mind tries to rationalize it and I am never able to do so.
This book is a fictionalized account of the events and I am not able neither do I think it is needed to figure out how much in the story is the truth and what part was the artistic license. I think the author succeeded admirably in presenting a very vivid picture of the horrors said Committee represented. One of the gay students whom those people wanted to catch as a “practising homosexual” in the book says that for years they had a very own Gestapo in the University and I did not feel for one minute that he was exaggerating. Nobody was safe, people were forced to spy on each other. Some people were broken and actually named names whether they were sure of those names or not, some committed suicide, some gathered all their strength and tried to fight injustice by at least surviving. The atmosphere in the book is very tense, at times I felt claustrophobic. It is NOT by all means an escapist, entertaining read. Read it if you want to remind yourself, or learn, or never forget what atrocities elected officials committed not too long ago, but do not read it to be entertained, that’s my advice anyway.
I think the writing was very clear, very crisp, but I really do not feel competent to pass a judgment on the writing style of a retired college English Professor (I was sure I read this information but cannot find it now before putting the review up – if I am wrong I apologize), so I will leave it at that. I thought that the characters in the book were vividly drawn, but probably because the main objective was to portray what was happening and how people reacted to those investigations, or I should say to those inquisitions, I felt that the book was a little too busy with the characters and because of that some of them could be portrayed in more depth. I am not complaining much, I get that the author probably wanted to give voice to at least several survivors of those events (I am sure he based the characters at least in part on real people), and several main characters were very well done. I also thought that he made a very nice attempt to argue why the character based on Senator Johns became who he was later in life.
There is some hope in the story and I saw that the writer tried to show a love story which was also a small touch of light in all that darkness, but let me repeat – this is not a romance and while I liked it, I did not think it was developed that much and it made sense that it was not front and center of the story, IMO anyway.