Over the last week, I’ve had a couple of occasions to exercise my sour grapes muscles, and whereas I don’t generally countenance whining, I have to admit that I have been allowing myself the rare indulgence.
First of all, I was notified a couple of days ago that The Old Buzzard Had It Coming didn’t win the 2007 Oklahoma Reads Oklahoma Centennial Project. It came in second out of the six. The project director at Oklahoma Department of Libraries told me that I put on a “tremendous showing”, and between me and the winner, we garnered 87% of the vote. This was a comfort, I admit, and I’m sure the project was great publicity for the book, but still, not winning stung a little, especially considering how hard I worked for it.
In any event, I must thank you very much, Dear Readers, for your votes. If ever anyone gives a prize for the book with the most second place finishes, Buzzard is a shoo-in.
The winner, incidently, was Fire In Beulah, by Rilla Askew, which is a novel set around the time of the 1921 Tulsa race riot. Rilla is a two-time Oklahoma Book Award winner, and Fire in Beulah also won the 2002 American Book Award. It’s quite a wonderful book, and if I’m honest, it’s no surprise to me that it won.
And now I’ll let you in on a little secret about writers, Dear Reader. Most of the time, when a writer reads someone else’s book, she may think to herself, “that was a very good book, but I can do as well.” Sometimes, she thinks, “mercy, how did that get published? I’m much better than that.” But then, a book comes along that makes you want to hang up your quill and throw yourself under a train, because you can’t see any way you’re going to produce anything to compare with what you just read. Sadly for me, I’ve just finished reading two books of just that quality. However, Dear Reader, if you haven’t read these books yet, you’re in for a treat.
The first was All Mortal Flesh, by Julia Spencer-Fleming, whom I have mentioned fondly on this site before. All Mortal Flesh is the fourth in her series featuring Clare Fergusson, Episcopal priest and ex-Army helicopter pilot. In the previous books, Clare is posted to the church in Miller’s Kill, NY, as her first priestly assignment. By virtue of her involvement with her paritioners and the community, she comes to work closely with the local chief of police, Russ Van Alstyne, on several murders that occur around Miller’s Kill. As the novels evolve, so does Clare and Russ’s relationship, even though he has been happily married for many years and nothing can possibly happen between them.
As All Mortal Flesh opens, Russ and Clare have reached a point where they have to acknowledge that they have actually fallen in love, and that decisions have to be made that will profoundly affect their lives and Russ’s marriage . Russ has confessed his feelings to his wife Linda, who has insisted that he move out of the house while he considers what he wants. What he wants is to save his marriage, but before he and Linda have had the chance to do more than acknowledge their problems, Linda is murdered and mutilated in her own kitchen by persons unknown .
How Julia conveys the heartbreak these people feel over their situation is incredibly, almost painfully, real. And as for the mystery – the twists and turns of this novel are eye-popping, and the ending is spectacular. All of Julia’s novels have been really wonderful, but All Mortal Flesh is something special. If this doesn’t win a bunch of awards, I’ll be amazed.
The second book that made me want to eat my own liver in despair was Impulse, by my fellow Poisoned Pen Press author, Frederick Ramsay. Impulse is a stand-alone novel featuring a mystery writer named Frank Smith, whose wife of many years was murdered a year earlier by an unknown killer. Though there is no evidence to prove it, the investigating detective is convinced that Frank murdered his wife. So Frank is still under suspicion when he decides to attend his fiftieth class reunion at Scott Academy on the other side of the country, where another mystery, this one twenty-five years old, awaits him.
How the tale works itself out is beautiful. One impulsive action taken long ago leads to another years later, and yet another years after that. The book is an insightful exploration of human nature. If only I could invoke whatever Muse inspired Fred to write this story, how happy I would be. Impulse was named one of the 100 best books of 2006 by Publishers Weekly.
So, author envy notwithstanding, I have to thank Julia Spencer-Fleming and Fred Ramsay for a couple of rapturous reads. And now, my editor has asked me if I will be able to send her the manuscript for my third Alafair novel early in December. So I invoke my own Muse, whoever she may be, and sit down to write.