Tag Archives: The twelve lives of samuel hawley

Squeaker: Lunchbox Best Novel Edgar

It’s Wednesday, April 25, just one day before the Mystery Writers of America Edgars Banquet, at which the MWA will be announcing the names of the 2018 Edgar award recipients.  Good news!  I have completed reading the final entry in the Best Novel category, and I’m reading to make my final pick for which author should take home the Edgar.

12 LivesThe final finalist is Hannah Tinti’s The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, a book I had read previously and greatly enjoyed reading again.  The Samuel Hawley in question is the single father of young Loo (short for Louisa), and the small family moves from place to place.  The twelve “lives” in question are twelve scars that Hawley bears, each one the mark of a healed bullet wound and a marker of a particular time in his life, some pre-Loo, some post.  Hawley is a rough man and a criminal, but a caring one, and is deeply devoted to his daughter.

Their nomadic life comes to an end when Hawley decides to move the teenage Loo back to the town where her mother was raised and mother’s mother still lives.  With the stability also comes a blooming curiosity, and Loo begins to uncover the secrets associated with her mother’s death – in particular, her grandmother Mabel Ridge’s belief that Hawley is responsible for her daughter’s death.  And indeed he is, for although he did not kill her, it was because of him that she was killed and the murder covered up.  Loo also faces a tough time at school, and deliberately breaks the finger of Marshall Hicks, subsequently falling in love with him.

The book builds to a climax as Samuel Hawley’s youthful chickens come home to roost, when a previously vanquished foe reappears to claim vengeance, and uses a former friend of Hawley’s to do so.  Only through quick thinking and sheer guts do Loo and her father prevail.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley has a lot going for it – the characters are rich and believable, the framing device using the twelve bullets is very useful and effective in moving the plot forward through time, and there is a real sense of tragedy, in that the heroes are undone by the flaws that make them unique.  Tinti does an excellent job of building suspense.  Hawley is similar, in some ways, to the Jordan Harper’s She Rides Shotgun, up this year for the Edgar for Best First Novel (and it ranked #1 with me)  Both feature a criminal father, an edgy, violence-prone daughter, and a dead mother.  Tinti’s book is both deeper and broader.

Compared to the other books nominated for Best Novel, Hawley is clearly near the top of the ranking.  It’s more complex than Bluebird, Bluebird.  And while I very much enjoyed Prussian Blue, I must admit that I found The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley to be much more engaging.   I simply cared more about the characters and was literally biting my nails about what would happen next.  Therefore, Tinti takes the top spot in the Literary Lunchbox ranking.

Tomorrow evening – or first thing Friday morning – we’ll see who won the real Edgars.  If all goes as typical, I’ll be right on one of my calls, and wrong on the other.  But there is always a possibility of the MWA judges showing the good judgment to agree with me 100%, or that I’ll strike out completely.   No matter, it’s the challenge and the process that makes it fun!

mwa_logoLiterary Lunchbox Rankings: Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award, Best Novel

  1. The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti
  2. Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr
  3. Bluebird Bluebird by Attica Locke
  4. The Dime by Kathleen Kent
  5. A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee
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MWA Edgar: Best Novel

Best Novel 18

It’s about a month until the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Awards banquet on April 26, so that gives me a few weeks to read (or re-read) the five nominees.  Of the group, I’ve already read Bluebird Bluebird and The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, but reading to review and rank is not the same as reading for fun… it takes a more careful reading and a critical eye.  So I’ll be reading them again; I do recall liking them both.

I’ll admit I had a little bit of a heavy heart when I saw that Philip Kerr’s Prussian Blue was up for the Edgar… it’s over 500 pages long and (gulp) historical.  Never my favorite.  And I said so in 2016, when The Lady from Zagreb was nominated (see more here) and in 2012, when his Field Gray was up for the award (ditto).  All three books feature WWII era spy Bernie Gunther.  I didn’t pick Kerr to win in 2012 or 2016, and sure enough, he didn’t.   So I’m going to build up to him slowly, and pick off the shorter books first!

That being said, first up is Kathleen Kent’s The Dime.   Dallas PD’s Betty Rhyzyk’s not your typical drug squad detective – she’s a transplanted Brooklyn cop, a tall, red-haired Polish lesbian.  She and her team are about to arrest a cocaine distributor and his supplier when a woman shows up, upset that her neighbor left his dog in his car on a hot day.  She calls the cops, an officer shows up, Betty and her partner stand by hoping it gets resolved quickly, when the supplier shows up.  The distributor dies, the cop dies, the Samaritan dies, one of Betty’s team is injured, and Ruiz gets away.  The one good thing?  Betty’s partner Seth adopts the dog.

The homicide squad takes over, but Betty and her guys keep working the case, determined to run Ruiz to ground and salvage the drug bust.  They chase down Ruiz’s girlfriend, Lana Yu, and the next thing we know, Lana’s dead, throat cut and her ears cut off, and a the stripe of dyed red in her head of black hair is gone as well.  When Lana’s missing hank of hair turns up in Betty’s bed while her partner, Jackie, lies there sleeping, it starts to look like Betty is being targeted.  When Ruiz’s head is delivered to Betty’s apartment in a box, it’s confirmed.   And when Betty and Hoskins, one of the team, are lured out of town, where Ruiz’s headless body has been found, it’s shocking but not surprising that Hoskins is killed and Betty kidnapped.   A crazy, religion-obsessed woman lives with her two criminal sons, and she wants Betty to bear her a grandchild.  Betty’s held captive for over a week until she finally makes a violent escape.

The Dime is a competent police procedural.  Betty has a solid backstory, and Kent does a good job of showing it in the first few chapters.  The relationship between Betty and the men she works with rings true, although perhaps a little too supportive; it’s hard to imagine that Texas cops are all that welcoming to New York lesbians.  She has a solid, loving relationship with her partner, and a little expected friction with Jackie’s family.  The best thing about the book is  Betty’s voice.  Told in the first person, she comes across as grounded and no-nonsense.

As the first one reviewed, The Dime takes top billing in the Literary Lunchbox ranking.  Frankly, it’s hard to imagine that it will stay there – when compared to other Edgar-award winners such as Mr. Mercedes, Ordinary Grace, The Last Child, or Goneit’s just not special enough to make the cut.  Let’s see!

mwa_logoLiterary Lunchbox Rankings: Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award, Best Novel

  1. The Dime by Kathleen Kent