Tag Archives: Lou Berney

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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Next Edgar Paperback: Woman with a Blue Pencil

pencil

Lou Berney’s Long and Faraway Gone told two mystery stories from two perspectives in both the present and the past, and Berney knocked it out of the park, in my opinion.  Next up for consideration for the MWA Edgar for Best Paperback Original is Gordon McAlpine and Woman With a Blue Pencil.  This book also tells two stories… and even a third.  And it’s pretty amazing as well, if a little convoluted.

A prologue of sorts sets it up, laying out the historical context.  On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor.  On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt orders the relocation of American residents of Japanese ancestry to internment camps.  And on August 30, 2014, “A dusty lockbox is found…” The box containers a 1945 pulp spy thriller by William Thorne, a pack of letters from the book’s editor to its author, and a handwritten manuscript.

And on McAlpine goes, toggling back and forth between the three items, starting out with “The Revised” by Takumi Sato.  This novella features Japanese-American detective Sam Sumida and tells the story of Sam’s investigation of the murder of his own wife, Kyoko.  Then comes a letter from Maxine Wakefield, Sato’s editor and the woman with the aforementioned blue pencil.  She point out that now is maybe not  good time for a Japanese hero – make him Korean! – and perhaps make him a valiant patriot fighting the Japanese.  (That would really sell.)  Then on to William Thorne’s novel, “The Orchid and the Secret Agent,” which has much in common with Sato’s,  but features a Korean-American detective, Jimmy Park.  Thorne’s book is very hard-boiled spy thriller.

And so it goes that editor Maxine offers helpful suggestions to the author, and he molds the Jimmy Park story to satisfy her, while putting his own vision into Sam Sumida’s story. It’s like a literary version of the movie Sliding Doors, where two stories with much in common also diverge widely.  (For example, a character dies in one book, but lives in the other.  And Kyoko is a sweet and loving woman in one, and the malevolent “Orchid” in the other.)

McAlpine makes it work.  I found myself drawn into Sumida’s quest, amazed by Park’s adventures, but mostly engaged in the relationship between Sato and his editor, which my brain insisted as interpreting as “the real story.”  Although all of it is 100% fiction, of course.  The historical context is emphasized in the postscript, which briefly outlines what happened to author Sato and what became of his editor, Maxine Wakefield.

So how does Pencil stack up against Gone?  Each is unique in its own way.  Each shows a great deal of creativity, but Woman with a Blue Pencil seems contrived, even labored.  I found The Long and Faraway Gone to be much more emotionally engaging.  So Berney’s  book stays at #1.

mwa_logoLiterary Lunchbox Edgar Ranking:  Best Paperback Original

  1. The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney
  2. Woman with a Blue Pencil by Gordon McAlpine

New Category: Best Paperback Original

goneThis year, I’m adding a new category to my MWA Edgar process.   I’ll be reading, reviewing and ranking the nominees for Best Paperback Original. First up is Lou Berney’s The Long and Faraway Gone.

Picture a hot Oklahoma City summer. The year is 1986, and two teenagers are living their lives. 15-year-old Michael has his first summer job, as an usher at the local movie theater, and he’s loving it. He’s got friends, and even a girl. Meanwhile, 17-year-old Genevieve is struggling with substance abuse while she’s saddled with taking care of her 12-year-old sister, Julianna. Then tragedy strikes twice … and Michael is the lone survivor of a mass killing at the theater and Genevieve leaves Julianna on her own as dusk falls at a local fair… and is never seen again.

Twenty-six years later, both kids are grown up and still dealing with the impact of their tragic pasts. Michael’s family left town shortly after the killings, moving to San Diego, where he started using his middle name, Wyatt. He’s hopscotched across the country since then and is now a private investigator in Las Vegas. Julianna – now a nurse – remained in Oklahoma City, often hears her sister’s voice in her head, and is haunted by the mystery of her sister’s disappearance.

Berney tells both stories, Wyatt’s and Julianna’s, in the fall of 2012, with frequent loop-backs into the past as each of them recall that fateful summer of 1986.   Wyatt’s back in Oklahoma City because he took a case as a favor to a friend. He’s stuck trying to figure out who is harassing Candace Kilkenny, a former Vegas bartender who inherited The Landing Run (a bar and live music venue) from a customer. But Candace is a trooper, she has an amazing little girl, and Wyatt transitions pretty quickly from going through the motions to full-on commitment.   Not surprisingly, being back brings forth his feeling of guilt at being the only survivor and he can’t help poking the ashes of the previous crime in hopes of figuring out why.

In the meantime, Julianna learns that the man long suspected of killing her sister has surfaced after many years. She plots to find him and force him to tell her the truth.   Like Wyatt, she wonders why – why did Genevieve leave her? What happened to her?

The perspective transitions from one protagonist to another, and particularly fun for the reader are the scenes where Wyatt and Julianna interact. Wyatt is mugged and gets stitched up in Julianna’s Emergency Room, and we see this scene from one perspective, then the other. Berney doesn’t take obvious tack of bringing the protagonists together and merging the plots. He takes them separately, but both mysteries are solved in a similar way. Both Wyatt and Julianna gain new information that puts what they already knew into perspective, allowing them to put all the pieces together. In the same way, Wyatt gets to the bottom of the Candace Kilkenny case.

I’ve got to say “good luck” to the other nominees, because The Long and Faraway Gone is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.  The plot is complex, but not unbelievably so, and Berney doesn’t cheat the reader. Pacing is excellent – Berney often switches from one POV to the other just as something we really want to learn is about to happen.

I’m a nut for good characterization.  And Berney’s characters are So! Amazingly! Real! (A nod to Candace, who has a habit of speaking with exclamation point when she is really sincere and wants to make! A! point!) Even minor characters are well-drawn. Violence, when it happens, is neither noir nor comic book. People in danger are really in danger, and you care about them.

Plus, there’s a lot of heart.   Both Wyatt and Julianna ache, but do the best they can anyway. What they learn in October 2012 helps heal the aches. You know they’ll remember, but now they can move on.

So, giant thumbs up for The Long and Faraway Gone. I gave a copy to a good friend for her birthday, gave my copy to my dad to read, bought a second copy for myself on Kindle and am currently forcing my husband to get it from the library.

mwa_logoLiterary Lunchbox Edgar Rankings: Best Paperback Original

  1. The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney