Tag Archives: Bent Road

Roy’s Let Me Die In His Footsteps

footstepsLori Roy is either living a charmed life or is singularly talented.  Or possibly both.  She’s published three novels, and all three have been nominated for Mystery Writers of America Edgar Awards.  Her first book, Bent Road, won the Edgar for Best First Novel in 2012. Her second, Until She Comes Home, was nominated for best novel in 2014, losing out to William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace. Her latest is in the running for Best Novel.  Let Me Die in His Footsteps is set in a small town in Kentucky, moving back and forth between the 1930s and the 1950s.  The focus is on Juna Crowley, as seen through the eyes of her sister Sarah, and Juna’s daughter Annie Holleran.  Like her mother and grandmother, Annie has the “know-how” – a way of knowing what is coming before it comes.

Annie has known that her true mother is Juna, who went away when Annie is a baby, but could come back at any time.  She is watching for her, expecting her, especially now that Annie has reached her day of ascension.  That’s the day, halfway between her 15th and 16th birthdays, when a girl can look down a well at midnight and see the face of her intended husband.  Annie wants to see her future, but what she finds when she heads to the nearest well is more than she bargained for.  Personal mysteries abound, and for a girl with the know-how, Annie has an awful lot to figure out

In the alternating story, Sarah Crowley is yearning for a young man herself.  A neighbor, Ellis Baine, one of many brothers, is the one who draws her eye.  But it’s her sister, Juna, who attracts the men.  Sensual and selfish, Juna uses a mysterious power to get what she wants.  As Sarah knows, Juna has a way of bending a person’s mind in her direction.  Indeed, Juna wishes to go to the fields to have sex with a local man, but Sarah foils her plan and arranges for their younger brother, Dale, to go with Juna so that Sarah can engineer  a casual meeting with Ellis.  When Dale later can’t be found, Juna tells a story of a passerby who “took Dale.”  When all is said and done, the community is convinced that the oldest Baine boy, kidnapped and beat Dale, and raped Juna.  Sarah is skeptical, thinks Juna is to blame, but still leaves Dale in Juna’s care.  Dale dies.  And Joseph Carl Baine is hanged for the crimes.

The repercussions reverberate.  Indeed, Juna is pregnant, and the father assumed to be Joseph Carl.  The baby – Annie – is born much too early, but full size.  And within just a day, Juna packs a bag and is gone forever, only sending a card or letter each Christmas.  One by one, the Baine boys leave town.  Sarah marries John Holleran, a good man who loves her, and takes Annie as her own.  And life goes on until Annie’s ascension day, when all begins to unravel.

By the end of Let Me Die in His Footsteps, all mysteries are resolved, and in ways the reader definitely does not expect.  It’s not quite Sixth Sense surprising, but I let out an “OMG” at one point. The plot, pacing, and suspense are superb.  Roy has an amazing ability to show inner character through behavior.  She is a master of misdirection- hiding the pertinent facts in plain sight, buried in other facts, but obvious upon the reveal.  And perhaps most importantly, her writing is beautiful.  Her description of lavender fields is so lush, you can smell the lavender.

How does it stack up to Michael Robotham’s Life or Death and M.J. Carter’s The Strangler Vine?  We may be three for three when it comes to good reads, but Let me Die takes the top spot on my ranking.  I have three more books to review and rank before April 28, but Roy’s got my bet as of today.  Well-done.

mwa_logoLiterary Lunchbox Edgar Ranking:  Best Novel

  1. Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy
  2. Life or Death by Michael Robotham
  3. The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter

Edgars announced

Bed time but must post quickly!  The Edgars are out.

I called it on Best Novel:  Gone by Mo Hayder.  Awesome.  Congrats.

I went back and forth on Best First Novel, and ultimately selected All Cry Chaos by Leonard Rosen.  The actual winner was my #2 ranked book, Bent Road by Lori Roy.   Congrats to her, as well!  She totally deserves it and I get why the Edgar judges made the call.

I am pleased with this year’s alignment, especially compared to last year, which was awesomely off-track.

Fourth Edgar nominee: Purgatory Chasm by Steve Ulfelder

April 26 is approaching quickly, so these reviews are coming fast and furious.  The Mystery Writers of America Edgar awards ceremony is Thursday!

Purgatory Chasm – sure to be a series – features auto mechanic and former race car driver Conway Sax.  Conway is also a recovering alcoholic and a member of a quirky AA group called the Barnburners.  In the AA tradition, Conway is obligated to help his fellow Barnburner Tander Phigg, who wants help freeing his vintage Mercedes from a crooked auto shop.

Of course, things go wrong, Tander’s murdered, and Sax is the primary suspect.  It’s a straight-forward story, a classic structure, and well-plotted and well-told by Ulfelder.

Most enjoyable is Ulfelder’s tone – the book has a clean, sharp voice, told in first person.  Here’s a sample (the first few paragraphs of the book):

There are drunken assholes, and there are assholes who are drunks.  Take a drunken asshole and stick him in AA five or ten years, maybe you come out with a decent guy.

Now take an asshole who’s a drunk.  Put him in AA as long as you like.  Send him to a thousand meetings a year, have him join the Peace Corps for good measure.  What you come out with is a sober asshole.

Tander Phigg was a sober asshole.

Getting to the bottom of Tander’s murder leads Sax on a wild ride (literally).  Purgatory Chasm is a fun, fast read.  And frankly, compared to the other three I’ve read, reviewed and rated so far, it was a relief.  While each of those books had much to recommend them (they are Edgar nominees, after all), Ulfelder’s debut was the only “classic” murder mystery in the running so far.

But is that enough to put it in the #1 spot?  I’ll tell you, it’s a tough one.  Ultimately, as much as I loved Purgatory Chasm, I have to give Bent Road the edge.  It’s just a more complex, deeper, more compelling story, with a strong sense of place and complex, interesting characters.  No one would say it was fun – but fun isn’t necessarily the most important criteria.

Rankings as we come down to the wire:

  1. Bent Road by Lori Roy
  2. Purgatory Chasm by Steve Ulfelder
  3. Last to Fold by David Duffy
  4. Red on Red by Edward Condon

Last to Fold third Edgar nominee

Turbo Vlast is an interesting man.  Once a zek, always a zek – Russian slang for a prisoner in a forced labor camp – even though he spent 20 years in the KGB after being plucked from the Gulag for his facility in language.  Turbo now runs a one-man (with some help from his friends and a chatty parrot) detective agency.

Last to Fold offers a twisty story wherein Turbo is retained to get to the bottom of a kidnapping – only to find out that the girl in question is the daughter of his own ex-wife.  He hasn’t seen Polina in 20 years, and she’s been living a tumultuous life since then, filled with crimes like embezzlement, identity theft and even murder.  Their personal relationship was also tumultuous, and the manipulative Polya was successful in separating Turbo from their son together, Aleksei.  The present-day mystery is rooted in a long-ago crime.  And let’s just say that Polya is not the only multi-faceted character with a strong unpleasant streak.  To get to the bottom of the many layers of intrigue, Turbo has to uncover answers to questions the Russian mob does not want asked.  He does so, but not without fallout.

What’s challenging about Last to Fold:  As many Russian names as Anna Karenina.  (Wait – Iakov!  Was he the good guy?  Or was that Ivanov?)  Many of the main characters hate each other, slept with each other, were married to each other, stole from each other, and betrayed each other.  All set against a backdrop of history that I’m not good with.

What’s good about Last to Fold:   Pretty tight timeline, funny parrot (Pig Pen), believable computer spyware, compelling character in Eva Mulholland (the “kidnapped” girl), and a killer twist at the end that I did not anticipate.  Well done, David Duffy!

How does it stack up against Bent Road and Red on Red, the two previously reviewed nominees for the MWA Edgar for Best First Novel by an American author?   For plot and characterization – better than Red on Red, not as good as Bent Road.  For voice – tie with Bent Road.  That gives Duffy’s nominee a spot smack dab in the middle:

Rankings so far:

  1. Bent Road by Lori Roy
  2. Last to Fold by David Duffy
  3. Red on Red by Edward Condon

Bent Road takes on Red on Red

I read Lori Roy’s Bent Road in one sitting, starting it when I couldn’t get to sleep one night and staying up, eyes heavy, drinking fully caffeinated tea so I could finish it.  The second entry in the race to the MWA Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author, Bent Road is the story of one family, one rural community, and the secrets of the human heart that bind them together while tearing them apart.

The family in question is the Scotts.  Father Arthur left his small Kansas town twenty years previously, but he’s on his way back with wife Celia, son Daniel, and daughters Elaine and Evie, having decided that Detroit is no place to raise a family.   Roy establishes a sense of foreboding in the first few pages, as Celia, Daniel and Evie drive through the darkness toward their new life, straining to see down the road while the shadows dart.

That foreboding is amplified as more characters are introduced, and the reader soon realizes that still waters run deep, indeed.  Arthur’s sister Eve died as a teenager, in a way that was apparently shocking but is not fully understood.  Eve’s boyfriend Ray – so loving and happy at the time – subsequently married their sister Ruth.   The marriage is unhappy, tragically so.  Daniel yearns for his father’s approval.  And little Evie has a strong physical resemblance to her aunt Eve, as well as to little Julianne Robinson.   Then Julianne disappears.

This debut novel is well-plotted, the characters are singular and yet familiar, the relationships complex, and Roy does an amazing job at building tension and revealing information in a way that is appropriate within the plot.  There is no cheating.  The resolution to the Julianne’s disappearance is satisfying and sad, and the resolution to the family drama is much the same.

Comparison to Red on Red:  Both focus on the humanity of the characters.  Both reveal the underlying inter-relations of the plot threads slowly, throughout the book.  But Bent Road is a page-turner (I literally refused to put it down), while Red on Red requires a persistent spirit to keep reading to the end.

No surprise, here’s the ranking:

  1. Bent Road by Lori Roy
  2. Red on Red by Edward Conlon