"An absorbing thriller wrapped in a sharp, biting critique of corruption."– Kirkus Reviews
A man on the cusp of marriage to a woman of a mixed racial background struggles with his father’s bigotry and history in this novel.
Cary Hinton meets Cornelia Barber at Centenary College, where he teaches English literature, and eight months later they’re about to be married. On the day of their wedding, Cornelia is set to finally meet her new parents-in-law, but Cary anxiously frets about his father’s reaction to his fiancee’s mixed background: She’s a blend of Portuguese, Irish, Vietnamese, and African-American, and Cary’s father, Fletcher, is an unrepentant racist. Fletcher was once a highly decorated colonel in the Marines, but now he languishes in diminished form in a nursing home, addled with dementia but imperiously intimidating as ever. The meeting between Cornelia and Fletcher is predictably disastrous—he is monstrously insulting, an experience that dredges up both Cary’s old resentments and long-harbored guilt. Fletcher was a merciless martinet as a father and subjected Cary to withering discipline and criticism. Fletcher beat him badly once his abuse was discovered, an episode that forced the colonel into ignominious retirement. Cary joined the military as well—he was also a Marine and served in Beirut with distinction—but left with conflicted emotions, much to his father’s angrily expressed disappointment. Meanwhile, Fletcher is at the center of a controversy in the nursing home—he’s accused of striking his wife, Betsy, now frail in the wake of a stroke. Mustin (The One, 2018, etc.) paints a nuanced picture of racism that’s rich with layers—Fletcher served in Vietnam, only exacerbating the conflict with Cornelia, and Betsy actually has an Indian heritage. The author’s writing can be elegant, even poetic, and artfully captures the tenderness beneath Fletcher’s cantankerous surface: “He felt her hand on his forehead. Then he breathed deeply and found what he’d been seeking, the abyss of darkness beyond dreaming.” The novel’s ending may seem too neatly packaged for some, a trite conclusion incongruent with the complexity that precedes it. Otherwise, this is an intelligent story, carefully crafted.
A poignant tale of recrimination and forgiveness.
A collection of subdued tales features characters who can neither evade the past nor confront the inevitable future.
John Fromme, narrator of the book’s titular and longest story, is a schizophrenic freelance writer. When his wife, Janet, frantically tells him their son, Ted, is missing, the two eventually find him with John’s mother, Charlene. It seems that Ted, ashamed of his dad’s condition, may want to live with Grandma. But as John and Janet argue with Charlene over who should be Ted’s guardian, readers are privy to John’s skewered perception. Voices in his head, for one, are personified, including look-alikes Lana and Carly, who talk to him as Janet and Charlene’s dispute presses on. Charlene points to the family’s history of mental illness, but John’s recollection of his past soon has him questioning his own memories. Characters in the other five, much shorter stories may not have a clearly defined disorder like John, but they are similarly afflicted. Nathan Ploegger, in “The Offering,” for example, is an American obsessed with finding a strange woman he met while touring the Yucatán, an obsession that may prove disastrous. In “I, Singularity,” Harold, blind since birth, experiences unbearable headaches. Surgery may help, but early tests lead to a surprise that could change Harold’s life as well as his relationship with his clingy sister Tess. In many ways, “Complementarities” is reminiscent of a soap opera, as Frankie’s affair with Juanita, the girlfriend of his pal Jimmy Sheephorn, invariably results in deceit and discontent. But like all of the tales, it’s shackled with an almost cruel predetermination: readers, in this case, know from the beginning that Jimmy’s died horribly. Mustin (We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile, 2013, etc.) rounds out his book with “Object of Affection” and “The Phantom.” In the former, a mother tells of her son Carlos, a celebrity athlete whose rise to fame is curtailed by a faster and miserable drop from the spotlight. The latter and closing story is also the most upbeat: baseball fanatic Karl has a shot at a career in his favorite sport—and his grandfather’s special homemade baseball is along for the ride.
Often despondent, but the brooding characters will stick in readers’ heads like emotional glue.
In a barbarous future following economic apocalypse, what’s left of the city of Asheville, North Carolina, faces a military and ideological threat from a hostile, degenerate tribe led by a vengeful ex-citizen.
Veteran author Mustin’s (Sam’s Place, 2013, etc.) sci-fi tale is a compelling, disturbingly urgent spin on the Riddley Walker–esque retro-barbarism-of-the-future theme, contained within a timely (if loaded) debate on laissez faire versus central authority. The story envisions what used to be the southern United States in the winter of 2090, a few generations following the “Great Debacle,” a worldwide economic depression triggered by a monopolist-tycoon U.S. president and an abundance of guns. Associated pandemic guerilla warfare destroyed much of civilization, and what was once Asheville is now the Citadel, a compound of tents and ruins, run along authoritarian lines by Mayor Samuel II. Still, it functions as a cooperative society compared to Freedomland, a surrounding territory populated by “Outliers,” tribal survivalists backsliding ever more into primitivism. Formerly at war with the Citadel, Outliers have established a dubious form of détente, including trade and parlays, under their new chieftain, Abraham Trapper. But Abraham was once Isaac Editor, a prominent Citadel member who defected to anarchy in the name of “sovereign” individualism and brawny self-determination (mental illness is involved; sorry tea party Nietzscheans). In the Citadel, Abraham’s old friend Jakob Historian (scribe for the community’s surviving monthly newspaper) learns that Abraham’s battered slave-wife is his lost love, presumed killed in action many years earlier, one of a number of psychological blows (some cunningly planned ahead by Abraham/Isaac) intended to shake Jakob’s belief in the Citadel way of life. For a narrative containing many philosophical poses, the contest between militia-mindset nihilism and organized government is still put across in terms that rile the mind and stir the blood and are eerily reflective of current talk radio bloviations. Readers living in the author’s Blue Ridge Mountains area will be particularly struck by the sense of place.
A tense post-apocalyptic drama that reads as if the kids in Lord of the Flies were savvy enough to grow up and form political parties.
After the small town of Hope, Ga., is rocked by the hit-and-run death of a 10-year-old girl, two brothers set out to find her murderer in Mustin’s debut thriller.
When Emily Shane is killed by a hit-and-run driver, her father, Pat, begins to obsess over the idea that known-alcoholic Phil Agee is the culprit. It was Agee’s vehicle that was seen ricocheting away from the crime scene, after all. But Agee’s close involvement with prominent liberal Sen. Alan Baxter leads Pat to suspect that the police and Baxter are withholding evidence and not interested in pursuing justice. Pat’s increasingly violent mood swings and volatile outbursts are driving a wedge between him and his wife, Yvonne; the town; and his brother Jason, a Vietnam War vet who lives with the couple. In order to save his family, Jason agrees to investigate the case with old war buddy and private detective Wilton Byrd—as long as Pat lays low. As the case enfolds, more tragedy ensues and Jason and Wilton uncover secrets and lies that shatter the family and town. Author Mustin has created a rich, layered and believable character study of Hope and its people; these are fundamentally decent people who struggle against a greater machine. Some lose their souls and lives trying to make a difference. The corrupting nature of power (the enormity of which is the title’s “reason to tremble”), the damaging effects of war and personal loss, and issues of trust and betrayal are explored with intelligence and depth as two men risk everything to uncover the truth. Filled with complex characters and relationships, this novel is moving and compulsively readable. Ultimately, readers may ask whether holding onto ideals and integrity is really worth this high a price.
An absorbing thriller wrapped in a sharp, biting critique of corruption.