Redneck Florida burns in ‘Holding Smoke’

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UNCW graduate pens latest book about a crime family in small-town Florida

Don Corleone, meet Florida Man.

Steph Post — who earned a master’s degree in liberal studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington — winds up her Judah Cannon trilogy with “Holding Smoke,” a bloody Dixie version of “The Godfather.”

At the center of the action is Judah, who’s getting out of jail — again — as the novel opens. The son of a redneck crime family in tiny Silas, Fla., Judah has been wanting to break out of the game and go straight. Like the Corleones, however, the Cannons keep pulling him back in.

With the death of his daddy, Judah is now the Michael Corleone of the Cannon family, but problems remain.

The family firm is broke, legitimately and otherwise.

His older, thuggish brother Levi — who combines the impulse control of Sonny Corleone with the brains of Fredo — has just been up and robbed the grandson of another clan on the other side of the country. Big mistake: A member of that clan is about to become sheriff, and Judah has to make peace and come up with a lot of cash — and fast.

An opportunity seems to present itself with a chance to kidnap a thoroughbred racehorse. Naturally, that scheme doesn’t go off quite as planned.

Meanwhile, Sister Tulah Atwell, the psychopathic evangelist who tangled with the Cannons in the first novel, “Lightwood,” is back on the scene. Sister Tulah, who makes the Rev. Jim Jones look like Mister Rogers, is literally trying to rebuild her church. (It burned down, spectacularly, at the end of “Lightwood.”) To do so, she’s running a vintage Florida swampland/real estate development scam. The Cannons, however, are not far out of her gun sights.

Yes, there will be blood.

Post, a Florida native, knows her territory. She catches the right drawl in the redneck accents and she has a fine sense of place for the honky tonks, fish shacks and by-the-week motels of the Sunshine State, well off the interstate.

She takes the raw material of the Rough South theme and handles it as adroitly as any of the he-man writers in the genre.

“Holding Smoke” is not for the faint of heart, but it should satisfy aficionados of .44-caliber fiction.

Ben Steelman can be reached at 910-343-2208 or

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