A REVIEW OF
Who Killed Buster Sparkle
John W. Bateman
New novel a Mississippi mystery that explores race, sexuality
By Jenna Gibson
Special to the Mississippi Clarion Ledger
USA TODAY NETWORK
In “Who Killed Buster Sparkle,” Buster Sparkle walks the town of Clover, Mississippi as a ghost who is unable to remember his past life. Buster meets a transgender woman named Peaches who can see him, and together they begin to unravel the mystery around Buster’s life and death.
Buster struggles to remember his old life throughout the novel, especially the moments that lead to his death. All Buster knows is that he enjoys fishing, even though he can’t touch any tangible objects now that he’s dead. He lives in a house that he believes is his, even though two other people live in it. Nobody is able to see Buster, so he spends his time aimlessly roaming around Clover—that is, until he meets Peaches.
Peaches is a white drag queen whose real name is Jasper, and she works as a singer at a bar called The Blue Magnolia. Local kids struggling with their own sexual identity find a safe haven at Peaches’ home, where they do their homework, watch movies, and are able to be surrounded by accepting and open-minded people.
Art Tinsley is a professor at Mississippi Agriculture College, and he is connected to Buster’s death. He experiments with pesticides and ants with a grant from the college, and he has a little black notebook that Buster is determined to get his hands on.
When Peaches and Buster meet, they become detectives, working to find out more information about the life and death of Buster Sparkle. Peaches helps Buster learn about his past life and his family, and the two form an unlikely friendship. Number 3 Raspberry Lane, where Peaches lives, quickly becomes a place filled with intriguing characters, love, and very interesting conversation!
“Who Killed Buster Sparkle?” is a riveting mystery that you won’t want to put down. Not only does the thrilling plot make this story exciting, but also the amusing dialogue and the character development of both Buster and Peaches as they become detectives. Bateman’s first novel is set in omniscient first person, with a main character who is able to hear others’ thoughts when he walks through them. By making his two main characters an African American ghost and a white transgender woman, Batemen’s first novel is a clever exploration of under-represented perspectives on sexuality and race in Mississippi. “Who Killed Buster Sparkle?” is imaginative and full of love and community-spirit, and it is a very entertaining read.
Buster is confused by Peaches’ sexual identity and continues to call her “Jasper” until the end of the novel, and Peaches assumes that her life has been harder than Buster’s just because of their identities. “Who Killed Buster Sparkle”? is not only a murder mystery, but it is also a story of learning how to love others for who they are and not judging a book by its cover.
Bateman lives in the Deep South, chasing words and finding stories. Influences include comedian and writer Bob Smith, photographer Duane Michals, his fairy godparents, and coffee. His work has appeared in “OneNewEngland,” “The Huffington Post,” “Glitterwolf Magazine,” “Nately’s,” the “SFWP Quarterly,” and lots of notebooks stacked in a bookcase somewhere. He has won a few awards for screenwriting and received a 2018 Emerging Filmmaker grant from the Mississippi Film Alliance. This is his first novel.
Jenna Gibson is a copywriter in Jackson. She enjoys reading and hanging out with her dogs.