Saturday, April 12, 2014

Time's Witness: Michael Malone

Michael Malone is the author of three mystery novels that feature two policemen working in a small town in North Carolina. The two policemen are very different. Justin Savile V is the scion of an old and important family in the state. Cuddy Mangum's origins are much lower, but he and Justin are very good friends.

The first novel in the short series, Uncivil Seasons, is narrated by Justin. In that novel, Justin is charged with solving the murder of his Aunt Cloris, the wife of State Senator Rowell Dollard. I read that book years ago, and all I really remember is that I enjoyed it a lot, and bought several more books written by Malone, both in the mystery genre and not, shortly after that.


Time's Witness, the second in the series and the book I just finished reading, is narrated by Cuddy. Cuddy is educated, but he is not refined, and to the powerful and rich inner circle of Hillston residents, he is a redneck. And at the point in time of this story, he is the Chief of Police. He has cleaned up the police in his town and he has hired women and blacks as police officers. The book was published in 1989 and set around the same time period.

The story in this book centers on George Hall, a black man arrested seven years earlier for killing a white cop. He is now on death row and supporters are seeking a reprieve or pardon. One day after Hall is granted a reprieve, his younger brother, Cooper,  is murdered. About half of the book centers on the investigation of the murder, which leads to the discovery of corruption in the police department and further up in the local and state government. The other half centers on the retrial of George Hall.

This is a very long book and there are many characters, but Malone does a beautiful job with them all. There are some quirky characters and the story is told with humor at times. Yet it is a very serious story. The themes are the death penalty, racism, inequity in the justice system, and the power that the rich can wield to get what they want. The author is passionate about his beliefs; telling the story via Cuddy make this more palatable.

I highly recommend this novel, but I will warn readers that it is not a typical mystery. There is a mystery and the mystery and trial are the primary focus of the book; yet within the frame of a crime story this is the story of a man, his job, his friends, and his love life. The book can easily stand alone; I read the first one so long ago I remember only the two main characters. On the other hand, if the reader comes to the first book after this one some plot points might be revealed. Either way, these are books worth reading.

J. Kingston Pierce (of the Rap Sheet)  interviewed Michael Malone in 2002 for January Magazine. The article and interview are very informative.

The book was published in 1989. It falls at the very end of the range for the Silver Edition of the Vintage Mystery Challenge, hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block.

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Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark [2002], original pub. in 1989
Length: 541 pages
Format: trade paperback
Series: Justin and Cuddy, book 2



18 comments:

  1. Tracy - This sounds like one of those novels in which the main focus is people, relationships and the rhythms of life, and the mystery is part of that. I've read other books like that and they can work beautifully. Glad you enjoyed this.

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    1. Margot, this is "sort of" a police procedural, "sort of" a novel about the South in the 1980's, and is very definitely about the issues, and I did enjoy it. Even though reading about the South is not my favorite thing.

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  2. TracyK: I can remember seeing the book a genearation ago but cannot remember if I read it. It sounds like a long book that remains good though it is long. I have not encountered many in the last few years.

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    1. Bill, it was worth plowing through the length but even so, it takes me a long time to get through these huge books and I get impatient. This one probably could have benefitted from trimming but was a great read nevertheless.

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  3. I'm going to have to remember this series, sounds like something I would love.

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    1. Ryan, if this is your type of novel, I think you would really like it. Great writing, interesting characters.

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  4. Tracy, I bought all 3 of these in a remaindered shop years ago. I haven't yet got to any of them, but hope to one day. Sounds like they are worth the time invested in reading them.

    Have a good trip (must be happening soon)!

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    1. Col, if you already have these, you should give them a try for sure. Yes, the trip is about a week away, and I am getting more stressed every day. I don't like flying at all.

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  5. I am just like you, I read Uncivil Seasons years ago (I just checked and it's even longer than I thought - summer of 89) and don't remember much, just that I enjoyed it. I think then it was seen as unusual as being quite discursive and showing a whole town, with the mystery ambling along within. Now that wouldn't make it stand out so much. Not sure I want to go back to this, though nice review, and you make it sound good...

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    1. Moira, it has its good and bad points, mostly good. It probably is the kind of book you have to be in the mood for. I do plan to read the rest of his books eventually, mystery and non mystery. I even have some of his short stories, and I don't even like short stories.

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  6. Tracy, I haven't read much crime fiction with legal elements, barring a couple of John Grishams and the odd legal thriller in recent years. In fact, this one does sound a bit like a Grisham novel. It has been compared to Harper's classic. I'll look it up at some point.

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    1. Prashant, I want to read more Grisham. His most recent one and also A Time to Kill. I don't like comparisons to other novels, but at least the comparisons for this book were in reviews, and not made up by the publisher. And I do see why they make the comparison.

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  7. I have eyed a Michael Malone novel at the library many times -- The Four Corners of the Sky -- but haven't tried it. These sound like the kind of not-really-a-mystery mystery story that I like, but oh no, another series! ;)

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    1. Laurie, I love mystery series, but I end up reading only one or two in a series sometimes... so it is frustrating. But this is a short series. I like that description: not-really-a-mystery mystery story.

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    2. I may stop with the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child eventually, but I'm still listening my way through them, here and there. They're more suspense than mystery, I guess.

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    3. That is another series I have only read one of and have the 2nd one on the shelves. Maybe someday that will be the perfect series to come back to.

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  8. I quite like these buddy-buddy novels. I will definitely like to read this. Thanks Tracy.

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    1. I hope you enjoy this novel, Neer. Definitely worth the time spent, in my opinion.

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