Book of the Day Review
Grace, by Howard Owens, grabs you from the opening paragraph and refuses to let go. The main character, Willie Black, is a blue collar, crass and colorful reporter following a murder in the neighborhood. The first several “graphs” report a newspaper employee holding the editor hostage with an unloaded gun, and propel the story line toward the killer of his brother. The murder of a young and aspiring black teenager turns quickly into the investigating a couple of decades of similar young boys that have disappeared; and Willie is following that thread.
The most captivating aspect of this book is the development of the main character, and his story may be more compelling than the story he’s following and trying to unravel. In fact, unraveling is apparently something that Willie is most talented at achieving. He does so with an ever-mounting sense of protectiveness that grows in the reader, trying to ‘will’ him not to head off the deep end. He is at times throughout the story line more detective than reporter, but his hunches and ability to put together the clues far outclass the local law enforcement.
More often than not, the local police chief has about had it with Willie and comes close several times to 86’ing the reporter from any interaction with himself or his officers. Ultimately, this hardscrabble reporter stays a step or two in front of the investigating officers and becomes the guy that puts the defiant police chief in his place by solving 20 years’ worth of unsolved murders. Owens has created a reoccurring character who is similar to Sam Spade—especially in regard to his penchant for colorful— and use of— challenging language, particularly when he’s been over served. He picks up on clues that elude others as often as he picks arguments that others would avoid.
At the climax of the story line, a celebrity and local philanthropist is gruesomely murdered in his estate and Willie recognizes that this can’t be coincidental. As he continuously puts himself in danger with nearly every other character in the story in some fashion or another, it becomes a large part of the suspense for the reader as to whether Willie can solve the puzzle before he implodes upon himself. There seems to be more impetus for Willie Black to destroy himself than there is to be the hero of the tale. Those that enjoy a great wordsmith and a unforgettable character in a classic whodunit style will enjoy this next reporter’s tale.
Robert Selby is a screenplay writer, book reviewer, and volunteer at Killer Nashville