Driving the King by Ravi Howard

driving the king

(HarperCollins, 2015)

In Ravi Howard’s novel, we are taken into the American South, to Montgomery Alabama, in the late 1940s and 1950s. Our central character is Nat Weary, a war hero who has just returned from overseas service and is home in Montgomery. He has a big night planned–he is attending a concert being put on by his boyhood friend Nat King Cole–and our Nat is planning to propose to his girlfriend. It is a momentous day to be sure.

As the band is about to begin playing, a white man armed with a lead pipe jumps on the stage to attack the band. Instinctively, Nat Weary’s plans are cast aside as he rushes to the defense of his friend and the star of the show. Weary is able to save the singer but his life’s plans are forever altered by his selfless act. Ten years in Kilby prison ensue and on the other side of that time, Nat Weary must piece together his life once more.

Nat Weary’s friend does not forget him, and when he is about to be released from prison he finds out that Nat King Cole has a job for him in Los Angeles as his driver and body guard. Cole is working on a television show and needs good people around him to keep him safe. Nat Weary finds himself in new territory making new plans for life and love, but the pull of Montgomery and his interrupted life are never far from his thoughts.

In the novel we also learn about the bus boycotts started by a strong woman named Rosa Parkas and even meet up with a passionate young pastor by the name of Martin Luther King. All of these historical characters are present in Montgomery at the time of the novel. And while this is a novel, it is a fact that Nat King Cole was attacked on stage while performing in Alabama. Ravi Howard has spun a fascinating personal story in the midst of a very dramatic time in America.

A fiction pick by Jean-Louis

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