Books by Howard Owen

EVERGREEN by Howard Owen
Released: July 1, 2019

"Middling for a series (Scuffletown, 2019, etc.) whose most distinctive features are its sharp eye for the mixed-race hero's heavy burdens, including, but not limited to, the decline and fall of print journalism."
Richmond crime reporter Willie Black accepts a commission to clean up his unknown father's grave and ends by cleaning up a whole lot more. Read full book review >
Released: June 30, 2017

"Despite an overlong last act, Owen produces another grim, tightly woven, and resolutely professional piece of work with a memorably nightmarish payoff."
Richmond reporter Willie Black's sixth adventure kicks off when one of his favorite watering holes becomes the site of a truly epic brush with the law. Read full book review >
GRACE by Howard Owen
Released: Oct. 31, 2016

"Owen uses his reflective, self-destructive hero to illuminate both the racial problems of his hometown and the ongoing death of the newspaper he loves, even though it doesn't love him back."
Proof positive that despite the title of police reporter Willie Black's fifth appearance (The Bottom, 2015, etc.), things can indeed get worse for both the city of Richmond and its daily newspaper. Read full book review >
THE BOTTOM by Howard Owen
Released: Aug. 31, 2015

"Owen has a solid grip on people and place and the social and racial tensions buzzing through a city haunted by history—a perfect milieu for nuanced crime capers."
Willie Mays Black, reporter/drinker/police gadfly, searches for a serial killer in Owen's (Parker Field, 2014, etc.) fourth crime caper.Read full book review >
Released: July 15, 2013

"A quick-flowing crime drama that will have fans eager for Willie Black to right another injustice."
Owen's (Oregon Hill, 2012, etc.) hard-drinking Richmond reporter Willie Black has an inside track on a blockbuster crime story that's "red meat for the on-the-airheads." Read full book review >
OREGON HILL by Howard Owen
Released: July 1, 2012

"Willie Black deserves a sequel."
Owen's (The Reckoning, 2010, etc.) 10th novel, part mystery, part character study. Read full book review >
THE RECKONING by Howard Owen
Released: Dec. 1, 2010

"A compelling tale of different eras and generations undercut by its undercooked mystery component."
Two mismatched college roommates from the late '60s reunite under very different circumstances in the days following 9/11, when dark forces threaten each of them and the 16-year-old son of one of the men. Read full book review >
ROCK OF AGES by Howard Owen
Released: May 30, 2006

"Fertile ground for a trilogy."
Farmer's daughter returns to family homestead to confront murder, experience mayhem and have great sex—not necessarily in that order. Read full book review >
TURN SIGNAL by Howard Owen
Released: Aug. 1, 2004

"A good premise animates what might have been a rather dull story into a witty, literary send-up along the lines of The King of Comedy."
A poison-pen letter to the publishing industry from Owen (The Rail, 2002, etc.), whose loser protagonist hits the big time once he stops playing by the rules. Read full book review >
THE RAIL by Howard Owen
Released: April 1, 2001

"Artfully muddled dynamics and good baseball scenes, but all that's interesting about The Rail is in his past: he's subdued in the story's present to the point of being a nonentity."
A sixth from Richmond, Virginia, newspaper editor Owen (Harry and Ruth, 2000, etc.) offers more of his scrambled-family specialties. This time, a baseball Hall-of-Famer on a long downward slide tries for a turnaround after his release from prison by reconnecting with his half-sister and his son. Read full book review >
HARRY AND RUTH by Howard Owen
Released: Aug. 1, 2000

"A complicated drama, told with compassion and humor."
Owens's strong fifth novel (after The Measured Man, 1996, etc.) depicts two elderly lovers tying up loose ends and saying good-bye. An interwoven narrative, meanwhile, reveals their lifelong connection. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 1997

Southern writer Owen (Fat Lightning, 1994, etc.), an editor at the Richmond Times Dispatch, movingly details the moral education of a 40ish white male as he finally tries to do the right thing in his racially divided hometown. St. Andrews is small and seemingly quiet, which suits Walker Fann just fine. A man of decent instincts if timid disposition, he believes in small-town life, but St. Andrews is no Eden. Once a milltown called Cottondale, the name was changed in 1949 after a notorious riot. As the story opens in the early '90s, the people of St. Andrews are about to vote on whether the old slave market should be turned into a museum. The black leadership believe that the change would revive the downtown area; the whites fear it would only revive the past. Walker has led a privileged life, meanwhile: He's the publisher of the local newspaper and a golfing buddy of the town's movers and shakers. Unlike the rest of his circle, though, he has black friends and has long dreamed of becoming a crusading journalist. But he's also always deferred to his strong- willed father, Big Walker, who now fears that the paper's support of the museum will lead to a loss of advertising. Walker's life is described in part by his dead wife Mattie, who drowned a year before the story begins while the two were vacationing in Italy. Using a ghost as a narrator is a potentially creaky device, but it works here. And when the still-grieving Walker, pursuing the young black boy who stole his favorite baseball mitt, finds himself drawn by his black acquaintances R.J. and Rasheed Aziz into a fight he doesn't want to fight—writing an editorial in favor of the museum- -Mattie is there willing him to do the right thing. Which he eventually does, though not before lives are lost and old friendships tested. A journey of the soul that warms and cheers. Read full book review >
Released: March 13, 1996

In a rich regional diction, and with flights of satiric darts aimed at hometown politicking, a completely engaging story about the family ties that bind—tight—and the ego-pricking legacy of growing up poor. Owen (Littlejohn, 1992; Fat Lightning, 1994) tells of middle- aged North Carolina twins—one running for governor—who are trying to work out the persistent influence of a father's obsession. Tommy Sweatt grew up in river-rat country, hardscrabble mean, then married well-off Genie, who stood by him even when, after the birth of twin boys (christened Jack Dempsey and Tom Edison Sweatt), her mother tried to buy her son-in-law into a divorce. It was then that Tommy made a vow: He would raise Jack and Tom Ed to be the best, ``to make everyone wish they were Sweatts.'' So he drilled the two hard, and they—close, united, hounded by their father—excelled. But at eight, Jack, nicknamed ``Lucky,'' contracted polio, and Tommy withdrew his love to concentrate on Tom Ed. Lucky then became just another debility that Tom Ed had to overcome—like being poor or hitting a curve. The isolated Lucky achieved and then floundered, erupted in hatred of Tom Ed and the town—until his happy marriage, family and new life in Virginia. Now, though, he is summoned by Tommy to drive Tom Ed in his campaign: to towns, ``pig pickin's,'' tobacco farms, colleges. The public likes Tom Ed—and, an artist at political oratory, he keeps his private self hidden: except in an unwise love affair, or in tipping his hand to Lucky. The men touch their old intimacy, and in a close race it looks like Tom Ed is edging ahead. But no one can foresee the tragicomic end to a lifelong dream. With poignancy, loamy humor, and home truths about the kind of politics where ``People don't want Integrity and Commitment. People want the room to light up.'' ($20,000 ad/promo; regional author tour) Read full book review >
FAT LIGHTNING by Howard Owen
Released: Aug. 1, 1994

Those quirky Southerners with their great affection for past high school glory and old-time religion are back. Sure, we've seen it all before, but with this estimable if occasionally sketchy novel, Owen (Littlejohn, 1992) demonstrates that the Southern gothic staples can still yield satisfaction. Nancy is signing and reading from her new book when someone asks whether it is based on personal experience, and, in the type of temporal displacement indicated in the movies by a dissolve, she flashes back to 1971. At that time, her silent second husband, Sam, suddenly insists on leaving Richmond, Va., for his hometown of Monacan. While not geographically far from Richmond, Monacan is psychologically light-years distant. It's the rural South, where the aspiring novelist contends with Sam's awkward family, including his Uncle Lot, who believes that the moss and faded paint on his barn have created an image of Jesus on the cross. In short, creepy first-person segments, Lot explains that he has been dreaming of snacking on ``fat lightning,'' a flammable wood used for kindling; that he has a sawdust pile that has been burning continuously for close to six years; and that he has hooked up with an inspirational African-American preacher who wants to organize ``The Chapel of Jesus-on-the-Barn.'' Meanwhile, at her tenth high-school reunion (where she observes that her peers are ``split down the middle by the '60s,'' half of them still conservative and half of them changed), Nancy meets up with her ex-husband and finds that she is still attracted to him. At the same time, she discovers that her unassuming second husband has been acting out some high-school fantasies of his own. While Lot's crazy acts can feel forced, Nancy is convincing as a smart semi-renegade who challenges the Presbyterian minister's wife when she wants to drop The Catcher in the Rye from the high-school reading list. Loopy and darkly comic, if sporadically out of control. Read full book review >
LITTLEJOHN by Howard Owen
Released: Oct. 1, 1992

An 82-year-old North Carolina farmer tries to accept his past- -in a quiet, tender, and moving first novel. Widower Littlejohn McCain sees no point in living any longer. His grown daughter in Virginia doesn't need him; his senses are failing. But he can't commit suicide: God would never forgive him, and what he most wants is forgiveness. He goes out in the midday sun hoping that ``the monkey''—heatstroke—will get him, and while he waits, reviews his life. From this seemingly conventional setup emerges an engaging memoir of a moral, thoughtful man who tried to be good and yet transgressed in ways he can scarcely comprehend: he killed his brother Lafe in a childhood accident—the ramifications of which become clear only at the end of the novel—and unwittingly failed people who counted on him, including his own son. In rural speech that's evocative and never overdone, Littlejohn provides a vivid picture of a unique corner of North Carolina while recalling his early humiliations in the schoolroom; his lonely withdrawal into hard work; his first affair—at age 27—with a Lumbee Indian; his witnessing of concentration camps in WW II (which profoundly affected his attitude toward race); his marriage to much-loved Sara, who teaches him, at age 40, to read. Visiting grandson Justin narrates some interesting sections, but daughter Georgia's account of the breakup of her marriage and her travels in Europe with a lover seem an irrelevant and irritating interruption. Littlejohn is a good, imperfect man and, like this book, good company. Read full book review >