In 2013, Memphis authors published titles that roamed the fields of literary fiction, espionage, history, nature and biology.
The latest additions to the list include two thrillers by Mark Greaney, whose collaboration with the late Tom Clancy surely amplified his fan base.
On Dec. 3, Greaney's publishers brought out "Dead Eye," (Berkley, $16 paperback), the fourth in his Gray Man series about the master assassin Court Gentry; and "Command Authority," (Putnam, $29.95), the third Jack Ryan thriller Greaney co-authored with Clancy.
The 25 "Dead Eye" reviews on Amazon last week were overwhelmingly positive. "The Gray Man at the very top of his game," said one. "A Total Thrill Ride from Beginning to Breathless End!" said another. Exclamation marks also punctuated the many five-star reviews for "Command Authority," which was No. 1 on The New York Times Bestsellers list for Dec. 22.
Among the engaging works of literary fiction by Memphis writers was "Something Pretty, Something Beautiful" (Outpost19, $16), Eric Barnes' novel about four adolescent boys who prowl the rainy, nighttime streets of Tacoma, Wash., where Barnes, now publisher of The Daily News, grew up. The book's serial scenes of youthful violence are drawn in potent, melancholy prose.
In "Paperboy" (Delacorte Press, $16.99), Vince Vawter
also introduces an adolescent character to the dark side of adult life. Vawter's semi-autobiographical tale is set in the Midtown Memphis neighborhood of Central Gardens, where he grew up. The narrator is a kid who stutters, an infirmity that complicates his encounters with alcoholism and domestic violence when he fills in for a friend on a paper route. "Paperboy" was an Amazon Best Book of the Month in May 2013. "The story follows the boy's 1959 Memphis summer with a slow but satisfying pace that builds to a storm of violence," said School Library Journal.
John Pritchard, who traces his roots to the Mississippi Delta, brought out the third of his Junior Ray novels, this one called "Sailing to Alluvium" (NewSouth Books, $27.95). The series is celebrated as much for its gleeful embrace of profanity as for its darkly humorous understanding of the central character's background as a poor white sharecropper from the Mississippi hill country. "Junior Ray's authentically Southern, unreconstructed rants make even the sharpest Tarantino dialog appear but idle Sunday-school chatter," said a review on Chapter16.org.
The poet/novelist/bookstore-owner Corey Mesler delivered a "collage-novel," a fantasy foray into Memphis history called "Diddy-Wah-Diddy: A Beale Street Suite" (Ampersand Books, $16.95), in addition to three poetry-and-prose chapbooks this year. In a blurb on the novel's cover, Greil Marcus says, "They say -- they used to say -- that anything can happen on Beale Street. Here it does."
Cary Holladay, an English professor at University of Memphis, published two short-story collections: "Horse People" (Louisiana State University Press, $23) which a Chapter16.org reviewer described as a "lyrical new collection of linked stories," and "The Deer in the Mirror" (Ohio State University Press, $24.95), which inspired the author Lee Smith to praise Holladay as a "historical fiction writer extraordinaire."
And in the burgeoning fiction category of Christian suspense, Michael Thompson had an entry with "The Parchman Preacher" (Balboa Press, $14.99).
Among noteworthy nonfiction works released by Memphians was Robert Gordon's "Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion" (Bloomsbury, $31.50), which The Commercial Appeal's music writer Bob Mehr described as "a vivid recounting of the history of the label." Gordon's previous books about music include "It Came from Memphis" (1995) and "Can't Be Satisfied" (2003), a biography of bluesman Muddy Waters.
Memphis librarian Patrick O'Daniel's "When the Levee Breaks" (The History Press, $19.99) revisits the great Mississippi Valley flood of 1927, which killed hundreds and displaced thousands. "While O'Daniel's analysis of the larger political, social, and economic fallout from the flood of 1927 is interesting, the core of 'When the Levee Breaks' is in the details of when and where the levees broke, and who -- by name in many cases -- was swept away in the raging waters," said a review on Chapter16.org.
In "The Last Segregated Hour: The Memphis Kneel-Ins and the Campaign for Southern Church Desegregation" (Oxford University Press, $29.95), Rhodes College religious studies professor Stephen R. Haynes reconstructs the struggle to integrate Second Presbyterian Church in the 1960s. "To supporters, the protests were an attempt to live up to Christ's message of universal inclusion," a Chapter16.org review said. "Opponents argued that they were 'not dramatic moral gestures, but political stunts' performed by activists with no real intention of joining the congregation for spiritual worship. Haynes' assessment of these differing perspectives is a good example of the generally balanced approach he takes throughout."
Peter Doherty, the Nobel Prize-winning immunologist who holds a chair in biomedical research at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, published "Their Fate Is our Fate: How Birds Foretell Threats to Our Health and Our World" (The Experiment, $14.95). "Doherty views birds as prophets of a sort, as 'sentinels, sampling the health of the air, seas, forests and grasslands that we share with them,'" said a review on Slate. "He presents tales of complicated, messy interactions between birds and humans, often culled from his experience in the world of medicine but also detailing some of the oft-overlooked ways in which subtle human actions can greatly impact birds. To be reminded of this dynamic, Doherty suggests, is to take responsibility for the health of birds, humans and the Earth."
It's a responsibility sportsmen who maintain hunting clubs along the Mississippi Flyway take seriously, as illustrated in "A Million Wings" (Wild Abundance, $50) by Susan Schadt, with photographs, both majestic and intimate, by Lisa Buser.
"Many of these families create easements in perpetuity, so the land is always there for the migratory habitat of waterfowl," Schadt said of the retreats she and Buser visited. "That beautiful landscape, the land that they've preserved, is so much a part of the story," said Buser.