Monday, 14 April 2014

The First Name Challenge: Wiley Cash



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…?

21 comments:

  1. Whole new area of research! What kind of book does an Araminta write?

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    1. About people; families - women in particular - this book at least.

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    2. Lucy you should read Col's review of Araminta here: http://col2910.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/araminta-hall-dot.html

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  2. Moira, to coin a baseball phrase - you smacked this one out of the park! Glad you enjoyed this as much as you did. I didn't fully understand all the nuances regarding the finer arts of the game, but it didn't spoil my enjoyment either.
    There's a certain synchronicity about reading a book with real life events that you can vividly recall and were around at the time.

    My wife read his first novel - A Land Less Kind Than Home, which at various points in reading, loved and hated as well as being simultaneously excited and scared by the tale. I ought to get to it soon. Well worth a look.

    Thanks for the challenge, I enjoyed it. We'll have to go again later in the year.

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    1. Yup, I'm definitely up for doing that again - we should get some more people in too. I almost think I got off easily because this was such a good book, one I'm glad to have read. Sounds like I need to read his first one too.

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  3. Interestingly enough - well, at least, you be the judge - when Slammin' Sammy and Big Mac were trying to beat the record, people wanted them to because they held a wholly unfair grudge against the holder, Roger Maris. The record Maris beat was Babe Ruth's, and many people had hoped it would stay in place for ever. McGwire was always suspected to be a cheat and was later proved to be so. Sosa was also caught out later, and that was more of a surprise.

    (Maris may incidentally be the only celeb to have come from the real life Fargo, as in the Coen Brothers film/new tv series. His record has always been tempered by an asterisk in the records, because there were more games in a season when he broke it than there were when Ruth set it.)

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    1. Didn't know the back-story to the record and anything about Roger Maris. So yes, interesting. I read up on him on wiki, and he seems to have gotten a raw deal. Mentions that he didn't court the press, which obviously didn't do him any favours. Died young too.
      Fargo - re Coen's is one of my favourite films. I do like Frances McDormand and Steve Buscemi.

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    2. When we first got to the USA my daughter was learning to read and the book sent home from school was about baseball and had these two sentences: 'Chip hits zip. It is a fly!' and she was saying 'but it doesn't make sense, I don't understand...' and I had to shake my head too and tell her that was not her fault, I had no idea what it meant either. But by the time we got back to the UK I understood the infield fly rule. Nothing else, mind, I just picked that one, and I can still explain it reasonably well (I think).

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  4. Moira - I remember very clearly that Sosa/McGwire rivalry. It really did have everyone's attention that summer. And I'm glad you enjoyed this book. I'm not much of a one for gruesome violence, but the premise sounds interesting. And I'd say you've certainly met the challenge. :-) Well done!

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    1. Indeed - I was baseball-innocent and a recent immigrant, but like everyone else I was watching for news of the home-runs.

      So Margot - are there any author first-names you haven't tried yet? You should join Col and me next time.

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  6. I am always surprised by how much I enjoy films or books which feature baseball given that I really don't understand the game (have been to a couple when visiting my family in the US but I just enjoy the atmosphere - no idea what's going on half the time). Funny that there aren't nearly as many books or movies that feature cricket!

    A good challenge well executed by both of you - getting outside one's reading comfort zone is difficult because there's so much good stuff inside it but I do think it's good to try - at least occasionally. I'm a judge for an Australian-based prize this year and just received the nominated books - I'll definitely be going way outside my normal comfort zone a few times in the next few weeks - hopefully with at least some successes.

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    1. Good point about cricket. I think there's a whole area of research into sports and books. Tennis doesn't feature much?

      Judging a prize must be very interesting from that point of view - and you can always hope for some real surprises from genres that aren't normally your home territory.

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    2. Tennis was a big part of a recent John le Carre book which I can't remember the name of (wasn't one of his best) but other than that I can't think of it featuring. Then again I suspect my interest in sport is on a level with yours - not that high - so I don't really seek out books which feature it - perhaps there are loads and I'm just ignorant (as with so many things)

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    3. Oh yes, I read that one, a big chunk of it took place at the French Open didn't it? Which reminds me of the tennis match in the film of Strangers on a Train....

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  7. Very interesting post, with all the talk of Sosa and McGwire. I did not watch any of the games, but was also very aware of the rivalry. I even have baseball cards of Sosa and McGwire... a lot of them. I used to collect both baseball cards and basketball cards.

    The book sounds good, although you mention violence, which doesn't. I recently purchased the first book by this author, the one Col mentioned above: A Land Less Kind Than Home. It was a Kindle special and very inexpensive. Don't know when I will read it because it is set in the South ... another North Carolina book, and that gets me down right there. But sometime.

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    1. I'll be really interested to hear your views on the first book, Tracy, because I do think I'm going to read it.

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  8. Moira: As someone who has played baseball for 52 years and is a an inductee of the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame I could explain the quote to you but I sort of doubt it matters that much to you.

    I have not read much sports crime fiction beyond my favourite Saskatchewan mystery, Prairie Hardball, as I have not usually found the writers understand the game well enough to make the book convincing.

    Baseball season has just commenced and I am hoping the Toronto Blue Jays can have a good season.

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    1. I'd gathered you were a baseball fan Bill - I hope your team does well this year.

      I can imagine that in a sports-themed book, mistakes would annoy you as much as howlers in the legal side of a crime story....

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  9. Moira, I enjoyed your one-off one-book challenge with Col though, frankly, I'd have been at a loss in selecting a suitable book for this innovative meme. I used to think baseball was a lot like cricket but it isn't except, as Col says, smacking the ball out of the ground.

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    1. In England, we say baseball is like rounders, which is a game children play at school or in the park - not a proper game like cricket... but that's people just teasing. And to me they're all the same and unknown pleasures. Col and I would like to do the meme again and get more people in, so you should start thinking of an unknown name now....

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