Tag Archives: Lori Roy

So embarrassed…

Edgars

I was a wonder-blogger as we led up to the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Awards banquet.  This year, I read, reviewed, and ranked in three categories.  My calls:

And then I totally flaked out once the winners were announced.  And I haven’t reviewed a dang thing since then.   Life!  Go figure.

But for those who were anxiously awaiting, the alignment this year was less than perfect:  MWA and I agreed on just one out of three.

  • Best Novel went to Lori Roy’s fabulous Let Me Die in His Footsteps, which I ranked third.
  • Best First Novel went to The Sympathizer, by Viet Than Nguyen, which I ranked #2.
  • And it was “winner winner chicken dinner” because the actual judges gave the totally deserving Lou Berney the Edgar for The Long and Faraway Gone.

Berney’s book was the one that really resonated with me out of all the nominees this year. I ended up buying it several times, because I gave the darn thing as a gift to friends and relatives out of sheer enthusiasm.   My dad loved it but argued with the ending.  Here’s where you can get all the info on this year‘s nominees and winners.

I’ve been reviewing Edgar nominees since 2010.  That year was stellar:  I had 100% agreement, as both Literary Lunchbox and the MWA gave John Hart’s The Last Child and Stefanie Pintoff’s In the Shadow of Gotham awards.   In 2011, I sank to the depths at 0% (but I still think my calls were better).  In 2012, it was 50%.   MWA and Lunchbox agreed on Mo Hayder’s Gone, but I gave All Cry Chaos by Leonard Rosen the edge over Lori Roy’s winner, Bent Road.  2013 was tough, at another 0%… but I think everyone expected Gone Girl to triumph over Dennis Lehane’s Live by Night.  And Chris Pavone’s debut, The Ex-Pats, was awfully good.  In 2014, it was another 50% and I defer to MWA, Red Sparrow deserved its win, but we agreed with William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace.  And last year I totally called it with Tom Bouman’s Dry Bones in the Valley as the best debut, although I figured Mo Hayder for a second win with Wolf, and Stephen King took the Edgar home for Mr. Mercedes.

At any rate, before I returned to the world of reading and reviewing, I felt that closure was necessary, Edgars-wise.  Thanks for reading.

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Night Life Penultimate Best Novel Nom

nightlifeSo here we go with another historical crime novel – David C. Taylor’s Night Life.  It’s his debut novel and it garnered an Edgar nomination for Mystery Writers of America Best Novel. Well-done, Taylor!

It’s 1954, and the cold war is in the deep freeze.  Michael Cassidy’s a New York City detective, smart, sometimes violent but only with a good reason, who has odd dreams that sometimes come true. Cassidy and his partner Tony Orso are called to investigate the torture and murder of Alex Ingram, who coincidentally was a dancer in a show that Tom Cassidy, his father, is producing.  Cassidy discovers a half-dollar coin in a buff envelope taped inside Ingram’s locker at the theater.

Things spiral from there, with an ever-widening scope of investigation, a growing body count, and plenty of interest from the FBI, CIA, and even Senator Joseph McCarthy, who finds a communist everywhere he looks.  He may be an obsessive nut job, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t real communist spies hard at work right here in NYC.  It turns out that Ingram was a KGB sleeper agent with a sideline in blackmail.  

On the personal front, Cassidy’s expecting retaliation from Franklin, a vice cop-slash-pimp.  Cassidy not only interrupted Franklin mid-assault on a hooker, but threw him out a window.  And he’s distracted by a new resident of his apartment building, a comely young woman who’s a welder working for an artist, bringing his metal sculptures to life.  (She wields a pretty mean baseball bat, too, rescuing Cassidy when Franklin’s buddies give him a beating in the apartment hallway.)  He’s close to his brother, Brian and sister, Leah, but not so close to his father, Tom.  His mother killed herself, more or less accidentally, taking an overdose of pills when she thought Tom would be coming home and would rescue her, thus bringing them closer together.  Unfortunately, Tom is essentially selfish, decided not to keep his promise, and teenage Michael discovered his mother’s cold body.

More about Cassidy’s father. More problems there.  He was born in Russia – Tomas Kasnavietski – emigrating to the US at age 15.  A staunch believer in the American dream, he’s surprised and dismayed to find that in 1954 America, Tom Cassidy’s about to be deported back to Russia.  His faith in his son and his friends to rescue him is unshaken.  Unfortunately, the friend is “Uncle Frank,” a mobster who wants a favor from Cassidy.

Fortunately, Cassidy’s a good detective, a smart negotiator and a good bluffer, with a stalwart partner and chutzpah to spare.  Still, it could have all gone sideways if it were not for his prophetic dreams… at the moment when the bad guys are about to ambush him, Cassidy recognizes the location and the sinking sense of dread from a recurrent dream.  It gives him the warning he needs to be the one left standing.

I’m very impressed with author David Taylor.  Night Life is tightly plotted, the coincidences not all that unlikely, the motivations for all clear and character-driven, and the integration of historical figures critical to the story, not distracting add-ons.  I understand that this is the first in a series featuring Det. Michael Cassidy, and I’ll be right there to read more in the future.  (In fact, book #2, Night Work, launched earlier this month.)

How does Night Life stack up to the other nominees?   Very, very well.  It’s eminently readable, like The Strangler Vine.  It’s got excellent pacing and similar switches in POV to keep up the suspense, as with Life or Death.  It’s got that paranormal aspect to it, as does Let Me Die in His Footsteps.   And it incorporates real-life historical figures, as does The Lady From Zagreb.  In fact, considering the whole package, I’m going to give Taylor’s debut mystery the top spot.  I may have reviewer’s regret when I review and rank the final nominee, Canary, and make some changes.  But time is running out, as the Edgars will be awarded Thursday!

Literary Lunchbox Edgar Ranking: Best Novel

mwa_logo

  1. Night Life by David C. Taylor
  2. Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy
  3. Life or Death by Michael Robotham
  4. The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter
  5. The Lady from Zagreb by Philip Kerr

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

OMG, seriously

I am shocked, shocked, to find that it has been 10 weeks since my last blog post.  I knew it was a long time, but seriously?  Real life took precedence over literary life.

red sparrowSo let’s do a quickie catch-up.  Previously on Literary Lunchbox, I was in the midst of my reviews for the Edgar Best Novel nominees.  Not surprisingly, the Mystery Writers of America did not wait for my reviews to bestow their awards.   Nope.  Jason Matthews won Best First Novel for his amazing book, Red Sparrow.  My pick was Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterson.  Red Sparrow was #2.   In retrospect, I think MWA got it right.

ordinary-grace-200William Kent Krueger took home the Edgar for Best Novel for his luminous novel, Ordinary Grace.  When I left off reviewing, Krueger was #1 of the four I had reviewed.  I can’t give myself full marks for calling it in advance, though, because unreviewed was Louise Penny’s How the Light Gets In as well as Lori Roy’s  Until She Comes Home.

untilLori Roy is a very special author.  Her prose is beautiful, her stories engaging, characters are well-developed and fully human, and her books defy categorization.   Until She Comes Home is a mystery, and much more.  Still, I believe I would have ranked it below Ordinary Grace because Krueger did a wonderful job of luring me in, engaging me emotionally throughout.  With Home, I was always a bit of an observer.

lightBut I think there is a very real danger I might have put Louise Penny‘s How the Light Gets In at the top of the Lit Lunchbox ranking.  The book features the always-compelling Inspector Gamache, and life is very bleak, with his department disbanded and his beloved Jean-Guy Beauvoir addicted to pain pills and filled with hatred for his former mentor.   An investigation in Three Pines while hostile forces gather against Gamache and threaten the country leads to the inspector’s eventual, but shocking, triumph.  Yes, I have to admit – it’s probably 50/50 whether I would have called it for Ordinary Grace or for How the Light Gets In.

So let us draw a curtain across this confusion.  All six nominees for the Best Novel Edgar are well worth reading, in my opinion.  So go for it.  Similarly, there’s a lot to like about all the Best First Novel nominees… the only one I would have reservations about is The Resurrectionist.  (So read that last.)

 

 

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