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Book Review: The Plunder Room

The Plunder RoomBy John Jeter
Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press ©2009 | Hardback 295pgs

Central to The Plunder Room are four generations of men in the Duncan family. The patriarch, Colonel Edward Duncan has just passed on, and his grandson Randol is now tasked with upholding the family honor. “Like virginity…Once you lose…your honor, it’s gone…forever.” With this responsibility, comes a skeleton key to an upstairs bedroom. Among the rumored ghosts, The Plunder Room holds the Colonel’s entire history, stuffed into U.S. Army footlockers. But succeeding generations have done much to tarnish the family honor, and Randol is unsure if he is up to the task.

Since the Colonel and his beloved Pearl Clementine settled in New Cumbria, South Carolina after World War II, the acorns have fallen farther and farther from the tree. “Jupe” Duncan, the Colonel’s son, operates a string of rundown bars and strip joints, amid rumors of corruption that have followed him since his service in Vietnam. Randol, Jupe’s son, was a professional slacker before an auto accident took the use of his legs and confined him to a wheel chair three years earlier. He is now the most respectable of the living Duncans, being the only one with a legitimate source of income, writing for an alternative music webzine. Randol’s son, Eddie, is the youngest of the Duncan men. At fourteen, he’s happy just to skate through school on a slick of hair gel, “guyliner”, and hormones.

Volusia, the housekeeper, is the only firebrand in the bunch. Along with cooking exquisite Southern cuisine and brewing the world’s best coffee, she keeps the family in line with a sharp eye and an even sharper tongue. She delights in putting the wayward Duncan men in their place, and is not above washing out a foul mouth or two with soap. The tranquil household that Volusia so diligently maintains is thrown into turmoil with the arrival of Randol’s half brother Jarod, who shows up with a beautiful young woman in tow named, Annie. Jarod has a reputation as shady as his father Jupe’s, and usually slides by on his good looks and greasy charm. Volusia is unmoved by Jarod’s sweet talk or Annie’s stunning beauty. She takes an immediate dislike to “raw meat the likes of this,” and distrusts Annie on site.

Randol shares Volusia’s distrust of Jarod, but is charmed into helping the gorgeous Annie find a teaching job at the local high school. Aiding damsels in distress, writing pithy articles for his webzine, and recounting Jupe’s rescue from a Honduran prison to warn Eddie off drugs, keep Randal too busy to visit The Plunder Room. But, when Jupe suddenly has a stroke and rumors start swirling about the appropriateness of Annie’s relationships with some of her students, Randol asks Jarod to help him explore their grandfather’s treasure room. This is a thinly veiled ploy to corner Jarod and demand an explanation for his secretive relationship with their father, and shed some light on Annie’s character.

What the brothers find in The Plunder Room is both heartwarming and gut wrenching. There are letters and mementos from 1930’s China and the European battlefields of World War II that chronicle their grandparents’ enduring love.  There is also damning evidence brought back from the jungles of Vietnam, showing the depth of their father Jupe’s corruption. It is here in the dusty, hot Plunder Room that Randol learns the extent of Jupe’s illegal enterprises and how deeply entangled Jarod has become with these shady business dealings.

The story then takes an odd turn, that is a stark departure from the rest of the book. A scandal is revealed with the seductive Annie at the center, but the plotline comes out of left field. The humorous, true to life dialog and the interaction between the Duncan family members are the best parts of this book. The contrived climax detracts from the deftly drawn character studies in the previous pages. Though the ending is lacking, the small town southern charm and tales of family intrigue still make this book an enjoyable read. It may be a slim volume, but The Plunder Room does contain a few treasures.

If you liked this title, you might also like: The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

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