The Road to Delano by John DeSimone: A compelling historical fiction and thriller

‘The Road to Delano’ is a historical fiction and thriller written by John DeSimone. The story is about Jack Duncan as he unearths the mysterious death of his father during the Californian grape strike.

The beauty of the story is that the author takes us to the countryside in America and sets the plot in the small town, embroiled in local politics and turmoil. As the writing is of the ‘thriller’ genre, the book definitely keeps up at a good pace. Also, there are snippets of the Great Depression and the Free Speech Movement that run in the background and speeches by Cesar Chavez.

The Road to Delano by John DeSimone
Book Length: 425 pages
Publisher: Rare Bird Books
Publication Date: March 10, 2020

‘The Road to Delano’ begins in the year 1933, set in Lamoille County with a background sketch on Sugar Duncan.  Sugar Duncan had been a gambler who could also farm. As he moved to Delano, he bought a patch of land and began growing durum wheat, yielding him high profits. The patch gradually totaled to about four thousand acres of fertile land in the area. In 1939, when he met Shirley Gray, things changed. Love turned Sugar into a dedicated farmer sans the gambling part.  As the couple lived happily at this farm, they were introduced to grape cultivation as a more profitable venture.

Soon we land upon Truman’s time and McArthur’s intervention and the Duncans welcome their baby boy naming him Paul Jack Duncan in the early 1950s. Jack is born the owner of the Duncan farms but then everything falls apart.

In 1968, Jack Duncan, a high school senior simply wants to get a scholarship and play college baseball and leave the political turmoil of Delano, the agricultural town  behind. Ever since his father died, Jack had suspected his mother of hiding the truth regarding the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death.

The trouble had started when Jack turned eight, after the grape harvest, the Duncans had started receiving mysterious, threatening phone calls. Sugar Duncan had to go to the Annual Association meeting in San Francisco and to stay at the usual hotel. But the next day, as there was no news from Sugar, Shirley called the police. But the police couldn’t trace him at the hotel and could only confirm a mysterious death. There was nothing that Jack could decipher except the car crash, gambling and morgue concerning his father’s death.

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With Jack’s family property on the verge of a tax sale, he drives an old combine harvester into town to sell it to the Lacy’s Tractor dealership. On the road, Herm Gordon, an old friend of his father shows up with evidence on Sugar Duncan’s murder.

Jack’s mother had told him that his father had fallen back to his old habit of gambling and on the verge of eventually losing the entire four thousand acres to Kolcinivitch, the biggest Ranch owner in the vicinity. But, she refused to divulge any further information.

Shirley had categorically asked Jack to not stop for anyone at the road while driving to Lacy’s and to return by ten o’clock. However Herm Gordon had taken Jack by surprise and had taken the combine. The stranded Jack on the road is saved by Ella, his girlfriend. Now he neither had the combine nor the money.

Just a hint from Herm that Jack’s father was killed over a speech at the association is the beginning of the investigation. Though, there is another twist where Lacy states that it is rather Herm Gordon who would do anything to hurt the Duncans. Jack is certainly keen to go behind the clues and find the truth behind his father’s murder. Though, Ella would rather want him to concentrate on the college plans. So Jack turns to his friend, Adrian, son of Isidro Sanchez, his father’s field supervisor at the farm.

Through Adrian who works closely with Cesar Chavez, the author brings out the exploitative conditions in which the migrant labourers worked. The lack of water or proper sanitation for them and even the courts were unfair to them. The scenario was such that if Mexicans and Filipinos dared even walk the shoulder of a public road, they’d get arrested. But, now there was an organized protest against Kolcinivitch.

‘Black eagle flags danced in the air, fluttering in the breeze. In the top row, men unfurled a white banner with blood-red letters—Kolcinivitch is Unfair to Farmworkers.’

The Road to Delano

The Road to Delano is the path Jack and Adrian must take to find their strength, their duty, and their destiny.

About the Author

John DeSimone is a published writer, novelist, and teacher. He’s been an adjunct professor and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University.

His recent co-authored books include Broken Circle: A Memoir of Escaping Afghanistan (Little A Publishers), and Courage to Say No by Dr. Raana Mahmood, about her struggles against sexual exploitation as a female physician in Karachi.

His novel Leonardo’s Chair was published in 2005. In 2012, he won a prestigious Norman Mailer Fellowship to complete his most recent historical novel, Road to Delano. His novels Leonardo’s Chair and No Ordinary Man have received critical recognition.

He works with select clients to write stories of inspiration and determination and with those who have a vital message to bring to the marketplace of ideas in well-written books.

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