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.
The 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!
Literary Lunchbox Rankings: Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award, Best Novel