Col, of the crime-fiction blog Col’s Criminal Library, is at the other end of the crime fiction spectrum from me – he likes his books dark and violent and noir-ish. After a bit of recent chit-chat about how different our favoured authors and titles sounded – he likes books by authors called Duane, and Red, and Jake; and he enjoys titles such as Pigs’ Blood and Shovel Ready – we decided on a challenge.
So…my challenge to him was: ‘each of us has to read and blog a book by an author a) whose first name hasn't featured before and b) that name has to at least *suggest* a genre or style quite different from the books most closely associated with our blogs. Are you on for that? I feel I get off more lightly, as I do dabble a toe into noir, but I think it'll do you good to read authors called Araminta and Amelia.’
Col has completely aced the challenge – he found an author called Araminta Hall, a book called Dot, and has read it. You can read his verdict here. Kudos, Col.
I chose my book from Col’s recent archives – so his review of it is here.
the book: This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash
published 2014 set in 1998
I could feel everything around me too: the crowd was so loud that you couldn’t even hear the music or the announcers, and when Brian Jordan hit a fly ball to left field and McGwire stepped into the batter’s box with nobody on base it was the loudest thing I’d ever heard. Ruby stuffed her hot dog in her mouth and covered her ears with her hands. But as soon as McGwire set his feet and got into his batting stance the whole stadium went totally silent, and you couldn’t hardly hear a thing.
McGwire swung and missed on the first pitch. As soon as the ball snapped into the catcher’s mitt, everybody in the stadium sighed at the same time like the audience does on game shows when somebody says the wrong answer. But it got quiet again when McGwire stepped back into the box. The next pitch was a ball, and everybody sighed just like they had before.
observations: This is a scene, near the end of the book, in a real-life baseball game: during the summer of 1998 in the USA, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were competing to beat a decades-old record for the most home runs in a season. This game at St Louis was a key moment in the rivalry, and all the main participants in the book (those that are still alive and not badly injured, that is) turn up at the stadium.
Wade Chesterfield, a former minor player, has abducted his two young daughters after their mother’s death. The legal position is clear – he has no parental rights – so they are on the run. But he is also in trouble with some very dicey types, who want some money back from him.
The story is told through the eyes of the older daughter Easter, who is 12; Brady, the court-appointed guardian who is searching for them; and an extremely nasty man called Pruitt who is clearly intending to kill Wade while reclaiming the money.
The baseball season is always there in the background – everyone in the book has a connection with the game. So there are lines of conversation like this:
He got the yips. He plunked this guy in the face one time, and the dude just lost it and charged the mound.
Completely incomprehensible to me, but that’s fine. Sammy Sosa (the real-life record-seeker in case you are having trouble keeping up) is supposed to have played with Wade at one time, leading to this excellent moment:
“Good thing Sammy got out of here when he did,” he said. “He’s got old teammates snatching up they kids, and him out there chasing Maris [current record-holder] with Big Mac.” He shook his head like it was the most profound thing he’d ever thought, much less said.
I did find some of the very gruesome violence hard to take, I skimmed those bits. But apart from that, this book was a great read: very well-written, and it certainly pulled me in, and I was really anxious to know what would happen. The book was full of surprises, right to the end, and walked a careful and thoughtful line between Wade’s obviously disastrous life and bad record as a parent, and his love for his daughters, and attempts to do the right thing by them.
He may be my first Wiley, but I would certainly read another book by him, and I would recommend this one. As it happens, I was living in the USA during the summer of the Sosa/McGwire rivalry, so that was an extra attraction for me, although, as is obvious, I still know zip about baseball. So don’t be put off by that element.
The pictures are of Sammy Sosa (top) and Mark McGwire.
Thanks to Col for an enjoyable bit of swapping. We’d love to hear if there are author first-names you have never sampled – and may we suggest you try a new one with your next book…?