In my twenties, I worked as a bookseller, and hands down my favorite part of the job was recommending books to folks who came in. I used to lurk around the shelves in fact, just waiting for someone to come in and ask me what to read next! So I was thrilled when the good folks at She Reads asked me to write a post telling readers about two books I wished they would read: one by a client and one by someone I don’t actually represent.
I’m going to start with the book I don’t represent, a book that was my hands down favorite read this year (by a non-client that is): FEAST DAY OF FOOLS by James Lee Burke. FEAST DAY OF FOOLS is a crime novel, and it’s beautifully, exquisitely plotted and paced—there’s not a single dull moment on any page. The characters are so real and nuanced and line by line, I don’t think you’ll find a more skilled writer than Burke out there. His sentences are flat out, grab-you-by-the-throat-and-make-you-shiver beautiful. And the Texas setting is so beautifully drawn that it’s a character in its own right. But beyond all of that, the reason why I love this book so much is how ultimately thoughtful it is. James Lee Burke is clearly a person who thinks a great deal about good and evil, greed and sacrifice, sorrow and redemption. He wants to know what makes good people good and bad people bad and the whole book is a deep and thoughtful study of human psychology and the nature of evil. The hero, Sheriff Hackberry Holland, is Burke’s greatest vehicle for his examination: he is an honorable, moral older man, full of sorrow and regret, fighting always to be a better person and to move beyond the sins of his past. Burke’s portrayal of him is so poignant and moving; Hackberry has to be one of my favorite characters in all of fiction, and I’ve devoured every book in which he appears. FEAST DAY OF FOOLS is truly a tour de force—read it even if you don’t usually read crime novels, because it is so much more than that.
I am fortunate enough to represent a writer who I think takes on the crime genre in the same thoughtful, beautifully written way, so I’m going to recommend her book next. BENT ROAD by Lori Roy just won the Edgar Award (an award Burke has also won twice), and I think it is richly deserved. A first novel, BENT ROAD is the story of Arthur and Celia Scott, who flee the race riots of 1967 Detroit to return to Arthur’s home town—the same place where his sister mysteriously disappeared twenty years ago. Just as they come home, a young girl mysteriously disappears, and the family is catapulted back into the dangers of the past. Like Burke, Lori Roy is fascinated by human behavior and by the way the wrongs of the past affect our present and our future. And line by line, her writing shines and shimmers, making the Kansas landscape a character in the same way Burke makes Texas such a big part of his book. BENT ROAD is also incredibly suspenseful and the characters are rich and fully realized. If I had to point out a difference in the books, I would say that Lori is more interested in family dynamics than Burke is—where FEAST DAY OF FOOLS is really a character study of Hackberry, BENT ROAD is a close look at one family and the way that our relationships with our relatives drive our actions for good or for bad. It’s a moving, powerful, fast-paced read.
I’m so happy to give these two books–one by an established master and one a first novel by a critically acclaimed up-and-comer–my highest recommendation. Read them both—you won’t be sorry.
About Jenny Bent:
In a career spanning 15 years, Jenny has made a practice of making bestsellers – either by spotting new talent or developing careers for multi-published authors. Her list is varied and includes commercial fiction and nonfiction, literary fiction and memoir. All the books she represents speak to the heart in some way: they are linked by genuine emotion, inspiration and great writing and story-telling.
She was born in New York City but grew up in Harrisonburg Virginia in a house full of books where she spent many lazy afternoons reading in a sunny window seat. She went on to England to get a BA/MA with first class honors from Cambridge University. After graduation she worked in magazines, bookselling and agenting, most recently at Trident Media Group, before founding THE BENT AGENCY in 2009. She now lives in Brooklyn in an apartment full of books and while there are not quite so many lazy reading afternoons, she manages to fit one in now and then.