You can never leave well-enough alone.
There you are, always digging, recreating, imagining, tweaking here or there. There’s no answer unattainable, no solution beyond your grip. Good or bad, a “need-to-know” basis is your default position but, as in the new book “Cemetery Road” by Greg Iles, it could get you killed.
Marshall McEwan planned to never visit Bienville, Mississippi again. Leaving there had been his salvation years ago, and the key to his success. No, Bienville was a bad memory in Marshall’s rear-view mirror, and he’d planned to keep it that way.
And then his father fell ill.
Duncan McEwan, owner-publisher of Beinville’s only newspaper, was once a strong voice against injustice and racism but alcoholism and liver failure were taking a toll on him now, as they had on his relationship with his son in the past. It was only by request from his mother that Marshall went home again.
And there was Jet Matheson.
They’d been childhood sweethearts once, and Marshall never stopped loving Jet, even though they’d gone their separate ways. Now in Bienville, he was divorced but she was not; years ago, Marshall turned Jet away, so she’d married Paul, Marshall’s old friend and the man who’d saved Marshall’s life. If Paul somehow learned that Marshall was sleeping with his wife now, Paul would kill him – if the “Poker Club” didn’t get there first.
Since the Civil War, that’s how Bienville’s wealthiest, most powerful men controlled the city, politically, financially, and socially. Now they were controlling extensive plans for construction of a Chinese paper factory that meant jobs for area residents, although plans went far beyond that.
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Yes, lives would be destroyed, property damaged, historic lands plundered, but billion-dollar contracts would line the already-cushioned pockets of wealthy men. It would happen, as long as the Poker Club – led by Jet Matheson’s father-in-law – could keep Marshall McEwen from learning secrets.
And they’d do that any way they could…
The best place to start with an almost-600-page book is at the beginning: “Cemetery Road” is very good but not very easy to read.
For sure, it’s one of the most realistic novels you’ll consume this spring, but emulating real-life means real-life complications: a lot of people to keep track of, a lot of side-issues to remember, and personal histories to learn. It’s like moving to a small town and being expected to intimately know everybody, on-the-spot.
And yet, again like real-life, intricacies make things interesting. Here, you get your ubiquitous web of lies and intrigue; some truly awful, greedy characters, each with a personal agenda; and a Betty-Veronica-Archie-type love triangle that comfortably amuses as it blows up within the tale. Yes, author Greg Iles throws a lot at his readers, but he also gives them life rafts so they don’t drift too far off-course.
Ultimately, this is an excellent novel if you’ve fallen in love with thrillers but, like many relationships these days, it’s complicated. Give yourself some time, let yourself be absorbed, and you’ll like “Cemetery Road” well enough.
Best books, reads of 2018
Fiction: 'All the Ever Afters'
Just about every person alive grew up feeling sorry for poor little Cinderella. In “All the Ever Afters” by Danielle Teller, we see the classic story from the POV of Agnes, the evil-not-evil stepmother. This novel is an eye-opener: there are always two sides to a story, and both could be correct.
Fiction: 'The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein'
Another two-sides-to-the-tale tale is “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” by Kiersten White, a novel of the woman who loved Victor Frankenstein. Or did she? Without him, she’d be homeless, broke, and hungry. With him, she would always fear his temper and the horrible things she was discovering about him. It’s a dark-and-stormy kind of book, perfect for anyone who wants winter chills of a different sort.
Fiction: 'Berlin 1936'
A lot of mini-stories make up “Berlin 1936” by Oliver Hilmes, translated from the German by Jefferson Chase. It’s a multi-level tale of Nazis, gypsies, homosexuals, and secrets in the infancy of the Third Reich, told in a conglomerate, slice-of-life sort of way that will make you forget that it’s all fiction.
Fiction: 'How to Stop Time'
Every year, it seems, scientists claim that humans will achieve immortality within a few decades. That’s a curse in “How to Stop Time” by Matt Haig. In 1598, a man named Tom fell in love with a woman named Rose. They had a daughter and then Rose fell ill and died; Tom, however, survived because he’s an “alba.” Tom is more than 400 years old and there are two things he wants: to feel as normal as he did in 1598, and to find his daughter, who is also an alba. Romancy? Yes, but also part sci-fi, part history, a little drama, and a whole lot of wonderful.
Fiction: 'Tin Man: A Novel'
To round out the fiction list, there’s “Tin Man: A Novel” by Sarah Winman. It’s also the story of Ellis, who lost his wife and his best friend, the former to a car accident and the latter to AIDS. Ellis misses Annie because she opened his world; he misses Michael because Michael pushed him to do things he would have never tried. But there were so many things Ellis never knew about Michael, until he finds Michael’s journal. Emotional, dramatic, also romantic, here’s a book that’ll make you curl up in your chair, stricken, for an hour after you’ve finished it.
Nonfiction: 'Here is Real Magic'
For anyone who’s ever wondered how that guy on TV does those illusion tricks, “Here is Real Magic” by Nate Staniforth is a book for you. Staniforth always wanted to be a magician but he wanted to do it big. Little coin tricks were old-school so, in this book, he goes on a journey to find out of magic is real or not. Hint: this isn’t a magic book. Read it, and you’ll be left with answers you weren’t even asking for.
Nonfiction: 'The Language of Kindness'
You may never see “The Language of Kindness” by Christie Watson on any other Best Of list and that’s too bad. Watson is a nurse, and this is a book about being ill, care-giving, living, and dying. Beware that some of the stories are a bit gruesome, but this is a lovely book for anyone alive.
Nonfiction: 'Natural Causes'
And not that there’s a theme here or anything, but you’ll also want to read “Natural Causes” by Barbara Ehrenreich, a book about the things we do to avoid dying. It’s informative, funny, wry, and intelligent. Hint: rant, rail, avoid sweets, eat kale, do all you want, but you’re going to die someday anyhow…
Nonfiction: 'The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row'
There’s a ton of surprising gratitude inside “The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row” by Anthony Ray Hardin with Lara Love Hardin. The reason is that Anthony Hardin was put on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. First surprise: it took thirty years for him to be exonerated. Second surprise: this book holds a whole lot less anger than you’d think it would, and a whole lot of uplifting. Of all the books on this list, it’s the one you’ll never regret reading.
Nonfiction: 'West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express'
Rounding out the nonfiction list, there’s “West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express” by Jim DeFelice. History fans will love this book because DeFelice focuses on the Pony Express but doesn’t ignore other major players in the Civil War era. Readers who like tales of little-known life will love this book, too, as will anyone who loves a good oater. Bonus: it’s one of those easy to browse books that will pull you in tight.
For any child who loves the Little House on the Prairie books, “Hardscrabble” by Sandra Dallas will be a winner. It’s a tale of twelve-year-old Belle Martin, who moves with her family from a farm in Iowa to the prairie in Colorado in 1910, and it wasn’t easy. For your 8-to-13-year-old, though, Dallas eases through the difficulty and happiness of this historical novel.
Children’s: 'Lorraine: The Girl Who Sang the Storm Away'
Much as I loved the bouncy, joyful words that make up “Lorraine: The Girl Who Sang the Storm Away” by Ketch Secor, and as much as they made me so very happy, the cherry on this literary sundae are the illustrations by Higgins Bond. Lush, colorful, and radiant, this is the tale of a girl and her grandfather, their love of music, and a mysterious spate of missing items. Your 3-to-6-year-old will like that. You’ll love the artwork.
Children’s: 'They Lost Their Heads! What Happened to Washington ’s Teeth, Einstein’s Brain, and Other Famous Body Parts'
Something totally fun to read, for the kid who loves oddities: “They Lost Their Heads! What Happened to Washington ’s Teeth, Einstein’s Brain, and Other Famous Body Parts” by Carlyn Beccia. This is a book that will inform your 10-to-14-year-old. It’s also going to give them light shivers, a few laughs, and a big dose of informative history that doesn’t feel like schooling. What better thing to have while school is out?