By Louise Ure
It was a Saturday morning in early February. The Fault Tree had been on the shelves for a total of three weeks and I was knee-deep in a book tour and signing events. I’d arrived at Mysteries to Die For in Thousand Oaks, California a bit early for the event. With Southern California traffic, you can never tell whether you’ll be an hour early or an hour late for an event so you build in a little cushion.
The ladies at Mysteries to Die For were, as usual, warm and gracious, setting up chairs and a speaker’s area as I strolled the bookstore. One of them – Heidi? Deanna? – approached me at the front table which held all the new arrivals.
“I enjoyed Forcing Amaryllis,” she said, referencing my first novel, “But this one is a really extraordinary debut.”
I swallowed that lump of misplaced pride and took the book she offered me: Tom Epperson’s The Kind One.
In recognition that this lady usually knows exactly what she’s talking about, I bought the book and tucked it into my shoulder bag. At the end of the tour it got unpacked, along with all the other purchased books, the remaining bookmarks, the hotel receipts, and index card notes from the trip and wound up smack dab in the middle of three dusty shelves that call themselves my “to be read” pile.
And there it stayed. From February through early September.
It didn’t exactly call attention to itself. I’d never heard of Epperson. The title – The Kind One – is not one of those that tells you to rip it off the shelf right now. Even the cover design, a sepia-toned photo of a Joshua tree and a 1930’s car – a Packard? — had all the timidity of a recessive gene.
So it took me this long to read it.
What was I thinking? How could I have let this masterpiece languish there on the shelf among so many lesser gods?
You say you’ve never heard of Tom Epperson or this book? That’s going to change.
While this is Epperson’s debut novel, he is the skilled and successful screenwriter of One False Move, The Gift, A Family Thing and A Gun, A Car, A Blonde. More importantly, perhaps, he is the longtime neighbor, roommate and partner of Billy Bob Thornton and brings to his work that same raw danger and Malvern, Arkansas-sensibility that Thornton shows on the screen.
You want to see some truth-telling? Check out the author bio he’s written at his website:
And then there’s the book.
The Kind One is the story of Danny Landon, an underling in Bud Seitz’s 1930’s Los Angeles mob. “Two Gun Danny,” they call him, but he has to take their word for it. As the result of some kind of unremembered violence, his memories only stretch back one year.
This is L.A. noir with all the grit, bigotry and misogyny of The Thirties laid bare. Spat-upon Blacks. The butchery of backroom abortion. Unprotected children. Mob boss rule.
And in the middle of it –Candide-like — is Danny Landon, a blank page of a man who doesn’t feel like a killer but doesn’t know why. (By the way, he’s not The Kind One of the title. That’s the mob boss, Seitz.)
The writing is spare and unflinching. The characters, unforgettable.
Robert Crais writes that The Kind One is “a perfect noir novel that is pure and original, with a heavy heart the beats through each page.”
I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t walk away with every debut novel award this year. Maybe even Best Novel.
And now I see that it’s going to be Ridley Scott/Warner Brothers film starring Casey Affleck. I can’t wait. I get to discover it all over again.
So tell me, Rati’, what book was it that stunned you when you finally took it off the shelf? Who would you like to apologize to for not having read it earlier?