Tag Archives: The Long And Faraway Gone

Top spot goes to…

daughterJane Shemilt’s The Daughter is the sixth and last finalist I’ll be ranking in the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award category of Best Paperback Original.  This is my first year reviewing this category, but it’s one I plan to revisit.  There’s plenty of fun to be had in reviewing Best First Novel, but that can be pretty variable in terms of quality.  And of course in Best Novel I am most likely to find books I have already read.  But the Best Paperback Original is consistently high in terms of writing quality while still having plenty of diversity.  I’ve discovered some new “must read” authors this year… makes me wonder what I missed in previous years!

The Daughter centers on the disappearance of a 15-year-old girl, Naomi.  Mother Jenny and father Ted are both physicians, but Jenny is a hard-working, overwhelmed GP, balancing her doctorly duties with her motherly ones, while Ted is a high-flying neurosurgeon.  They also have twin sons, Ed and Theo.  We learn early on that Naomi is not quickly found, alive nor dead, and that her disappearance has a profound impact on the family.   Painful secrets are revealed, including the strong likelihood that this was not an abduction, but Naomi’s choice.

As the secrets unfurl, Jenny begins to question everything she thought she knew about her daughter, her husband, even her sons.  At the same time, she questions her professional judgment when a child she thought she was saving from parental abuse is revealed to be well-loved, just poor and suffering from leukemia.  That the father she accused reaches out in sympathy when he learns that Naomi is missing is a sharp reminder of her inadequacy.

But as quick a Jenny is to blame himself, her husband seems quick to absolve himself, even when it becomes apparent that one of Ted’s errors in judgment is the cause.  A young girl’s surgery gone wrong, for which Ted failed to take the blame or even say “I’m sorry,” inspired one of the girl’s family to take revenge, not only seducing Naomi away but getting her brother hooked on drugs.

Over a year later, Jenny is still hanging on, coming to terms with what happened.  Ted has come to regret his choices, their sons are doing well, and Jenny is a stronger person.  The mystery of what truly happened to Naomi is resolved for Jenny and for the reader, and it is a pain-filled and yet hopeful resolution.

Shemilt reveals the story slowly, weaving back and forth in time from just before the disappearance to the days and months ahead.  A second reading of the book shows just how well the author shows us what is happening through Jenny’s clouded perspective – no cheating – so that when the truth is revealed and we look with that realization, we see it was there all along.   The final chapter is a stab to a mother’s heart.

Comparing The Daughter to the other finalists, it is certainly most similar to What She Knew.    I went back and forth where to place it on the ranking, and could make a case for almost anywhere in the middle.  Ultimately, I’m putting The Daughter at #2 because of the complexity of the plot and the strong characterization.

Congrats to The Long and Faraway Gone for maintaining the top spot.  We’ll have to see come April 28 if the MWA judges agree with my call.

Literary Lunchbox Edgar Ranking: Best Paperback Original

mwa_logo

  1. The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney
  2. The Daughter by Jane Shemilt
  3. Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty
  4. The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter by Malcolm Mackay
  5. Woman with a Blue Pencil by Gordon McAlpine
  6. What She Knew by Gilly MacMillan

McKinty’s Gun Street Girl Enters the Ranking

imagesSo thrilled to find Adrian McKinty‘s Detective Sean Duffy series with this entry to the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original.  I’m a fan of British, Irish, Scottish, heck, even Wales-ian police procedurals, and Gun Street Girl was my introduction to a great series.

It’s 1985, and Sean Duffy’s a Belfast cop, and a Catholic one at that.  As a result, he never gets in his car without checking underneath for a car bomb.  He’s evidently had a checkered past.  (Totally going to check out the backlist.)  He’s got a new boss who’s a bit of a wuss, and a team that includes a trusted #2, DS McCrabban, also known as Crabbie; and two new constables, the brainy but still-wet-behind-the-ears male half of the pair, Lawson, and Fletcher, the straight-arrow female officer who seemed not too quick on the uptake.  Add in the Special Branch agent who’s trying to recruit him away from the RUC, a not-too-committed reporter girlfriend, and a wide range of characters associated with both sides of “The Troubles,” and it’s an entertaining mix.

Gun Street Girl starts out with a cock-up of an inter-agency sting to capture American gunrunners.  Duffy sees what should be done, watches those in charge not do it, observes the ensuing mess, and wanders away, mid-sting.  Thus does McKinty ably showcase Duffy’s skill and attitude.   

Back in Carrickfergus, Duffy and his team are called in to investigate the murder of a man and his wife and the disappearance of the couple’s adult son, Michael Kelly.  The son had frequent arguments with his dad, and the easy answer is that Michael did it.  And while he probably did, there are some things – especially the cold, clean crime scene – that indicate a professional hit.  Michael’s body is subsequently discovered at the bottom of a cliff, a suicide note in his car, an open-and-shut case is not so clear-cut to DI Duffy.  The team’s subsequent investigation uncovers a cover-up related to a heroin overdose, stolen Javelin missiles, and possible CIA skullduggery.  That Duffy gets to the bottom of it all is unquestioned.  But the unravelling is not without cost.

Here’s where McKinty gets full marks from me:  plotting, the main character (love him!) and snarky humor (ditto!).  I will definitely read the other books in the Duffy series.  Needs work:  many of the minor characters are drawn in very broad strokes (boss McArthur and American spy guy John Connelly) and the women characters, in particular, are cardboard cut-outs (reporter girlfriend Sara and special branch recruiter-slash-sexpot Kate).

Comparatively speaking, though, Gun Street Girl is pretty compelling despite these shortcomings.  It’s a strong contender and excellent for its type.  Not quite up to Berney’s book, though, so I’m going to rank it #2 on the list.

mwa_logoLiterary Lunchbox Edgar Ranking: Best Paperback Original

  1. The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney
  2. Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty
  3. Woman with a Blue Pencil by Gordon McAlpine
  4. What She Knew by Gilly MacMillan

Gilly MacMillan’s What She Knew

knewThe third finalist for the MWA Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original is Gilly MacMillan’s What She Knew.  It’s a compulsive page-turner of the “oh no, what more can go wrong” variety.

The book turns on a missing boy, eight-year-old Benedict Finch, who disappears one day from an area woodland where he, his mom, and their little dog Skittle often walk.  Told primarily from the point of view of his mother, Rachel, the story is also recounted from the perspective of Jim Clemo as well as that of Jim’s psychiatrist.   Although the time frame from Ben’s disappearance to the solving of the crime is about a week, the impact of everyone’s actions – including those closest to Ben, the police investigators, even the suspects – reverberates well into the future.

MacMillan does an excellent job of doling out information a bit at a time, ratcheting up the suspense, while switching from one perspective to another (a characteristic of Lou Berney’s nominated novel, as well).   The police follow one lead after another, many of which seem promising on the surface, but fail to pan out.  The police distrust of the mother leads to some significant mis-steps, and when it comes right down to it, Rachel is the only one who figures out what happened and takes action to save her son.

Ultimately, What She Knew is a fun psychological thriller with some aspirations to significance, an easy book to gulp down.  But I found it to be overcrowded with characters, all of whom had a carefully constructed psychological backstory which was eventually recounted.  I also could have done without the talky epilogue.

In terms of ranking, Berney’s book is clearly superior.  And comparing MacMillan to McAlpine, I’ll have to give Woman with a Blue Pencil the edge for mind-bending originality. Thus What She Knew comes in third at this point.

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
  3. What She Knew by Gilly MacMillan

 

ps- As an MWA member, I got my invite for the Edgar Symposium and Awards Banquet… ah, if only…

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