July 2009

The Shelf

Teresa Weaver on Georgia writers

Mary Kay Andrews



Mary Kay Andrews of Avondale Estates was a feature writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the mother of two small children when she wrote her first novel. Sixteen books later, she is a popular attraction at literary events and seminars throughout her native South and beyond. Among her priceless advice to aspiring writers: “Write the damned book.” No excuses, no whining. Andrews wrote ten witty, wiseass mystery novels under her real name, Kathy Hogan Trocheck, which spawned a loyal fan base but never gave her the breakout success that she’s found under her pseudonym. The Fixer Upper (Harper, $25.99) may be her most blatantly Gothic novel yet, but Andrews has always had a way with oddball, misfit characters. In The Fixer Upper, Dempsey Jo Killebrew—a young, unbearably naive associate at a D.C. lobbying firm—has become entangled in a sordid Washington scandal. Left with limited options, Dempsey retreats to an antebellum, Pepto Bismol–pink eyesore called Birdsong in Guthrie, Georgia, that her father recently inherited. Dad, as unsentimental as he is unlikable, wants her to restore the mansion to some semblance of glory so they can sell it and split the profit. As she settles in, Dempsey discovers many things: an affinity for home renovation, a cute attorney who lives nearby, and an octogenarian relative with a gun who refuses to leave Birdsong. The big picture of Andrews’s fiction can be fairly predictable—readers expect characters to end up happy, after all, in books with candy-colored covers—but the devil in the details is a charmer every time.

Through the Pale Door

Hub City Writers Project, $24.95

Marietta native BRIAN RAY won the inaugural South Carolina First Novel Prize for this mesmerizing coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of a looming, otherworldly steel mill. “After four summers working in one, I finally realized the exotic beauty of steel mills,” Ray says from Greensboro, North Carolina, where he’s working on his Ph.D. “They’re almost Gothic. Steel mills are cathedrals, caves, and surrealist landscapes.” In Through the Pale Door, a young artist named Sarah West takes a summer job at her father’s steel mill in South Carolina, hoping to earn money for college while also avoiding the life with her psychotic mother in Marietta. Her mother is insane, “like an unwound ball of yarn, tangled and sprawling, dangerous . . . My dad had asked me to stay here and keep my mom’s yarn clumped together.” In the unlikely sanctuary of the steel mill, Sarah finds a kindred spirit, Edgewood, who wrangles steel by day and paints magnificent murals on company property by night. Their story is so gently told, in a setting so beautifully grim, it’s easy to forget this is a debut novel.


Dead Docket

Forge, $24.95

Keep this in mind: Nobody reads John Grisham for the lyricism of his prose. Readers of legal thrillers want action, suspense, strong characters—and a little steamy sex whenever possible. MITCHELL GRAHAM, who practiced law in New York City for twenty years and now lives in Marietta, is another in a long line of attorneys who have jumped from the law into the potboiler. Initially a fantasy writer, Graham published his first legal thriller, Majestic Descending, in 2007; it featured two characters that return now in Dead Docket. Katherine Adams, a whip-smart Atlanta attorney, and John Delaney, an NYPD detective turned lawyer, have settled into a long-distance love affair since the horrific events of the first novel threw them together. When the daughter of John’s late father’s former police partner—got that?—dies in an “accident” in Atlanta, John comes to town to settle her affairs but uncovers some nasty secrets that put Katherine at great risk. The story is compelling for the most part, with neck-snapping twists, but the wooden prose and formulaic dialogue—“I said, ‘Just give it to me straight, Doc’”—are sometimes scarier than the bloody scenes.