The first Roger Ellory novel I read was 'The Anniversary Man'. That was several years ago. After such a stunning discovery I did not lose much time and read his previously published works. And ever since the release of 'Bad Signs' in 2011, I have been looking forward (and not without a high degree of impatience) to getting hold of each new book, and immersing myself into them, devouring the fine prose and marveling at the slow burning and always uniquely-told stories. 'Mockingbird Songs' (2015) is no exception, it's simply addictive.
'Mockingbird Songs' tells the stories of two men: Evan Riggs, a former country music star in the 1940s who ends up serving life without parole for the murder of a stranger; and Henry Quinn, a young guitarist whom he meets thirty years later and protects in prison. Upon his release Quinn promises Riggs to deliver a letter to a girl called Sarah, the daughter that Evan has never seen. Quinn's mission takes him to Calvary, East Texas, where Evan's estranged brother, Carson, serves as sheriff and is determined to complicate Henry's task and make sure that the Pandora's Box remains closed.
I enjoyed 'Mockingbird Songs' for various reasons. Stylistically, I was once again hooked from the very beginning. Ellory somehow captures the eeriness and desolation of small-town Texas in the 1940s-70s and introduces us to astutely fleshed-out and complex characters who keep us emotionally-involved. There is juxtaposition in style between sharp, yet beautiful prose and slang Americanisations, which only Ellory seems capable of pulling off. You get the feeling that he has lived in Calvary, Texas his whole life and knows the townsfolk like his next door neighbors. He makes them real and believable.
Like Ellory's other novels, 'Mockingbird Songs' is very much character driven. Henry Quinn, the main protagonist, takes us along with him on the ride and into to the heart of the matter: small town politics, power struggles, but also conflicting jealousies, human bitterness, tangled with a highly emotional love story - and all accompanied by a country music vibe which highlights Ellory's passion for literature as well as music. The characters evolve as the plot jumps between the past (1940s) in which we are given the necessary background and the present (1972) in which Henry is determined to deliver the letter he has been trusted with while gradually discovering the skeletons in the closet of the past.
The dual story unfolds at a wonderful pace and you reach an eventful conclusion that has considerable impact - a sort of inevitable catharsis where the worlds of the past and present clash once and for all, leaving little room for survivors. What goes around certainly comes around. And I turned the last page of the book with a feeling of joy and satisfaction for having witnessed something raw and thought-provoking - a story whose characters will linger in my mind and continue to haunt me for the near future. And that's always a wonderful sensation to have after reading a book!
Although I was mesmerized by 'Mockingbird Songs', I did however find that it lacked somewhat the punch of Ellory's previous novels. Henry Quinn or Evan Riggs seemed to possess less inner demons than the main protagonists of his other books. Detective Ray Irving in 'The Anniversary Man', Frank Parrish in 'Saints of New York' or Vincent Madigan in 'A Dark and Broken Heart' were truly consumed by theirs. But then again the story here is perhaps a little more subdued than in his other novels as the primary focus is family matters in a small town in rural America, and not a relentless pursuit of a sadistic killer nor a man's survival in the world of organized crime.
Overall this was another great achievement by Roger Ellory, and now I await the 2016 book with even more eagerness.