The Shelf: Lynn Cullen

Teresa Weaver on Georgia writers

Lynn Cullen

Smyrna’s Lynn Cullen, a successful writer of books for young readers, makes a stunning leap into historical fiction for adults with The Creation of Eve (Putnam, $25.95). Cullen had set out to write a novel about Spain’s King Philip II but got distracted by a remarkable real-life character in his court: Sofonisba Anguissola (c. 1532–1625), a gifted protégé of Michelangelo who fled Italy after a scandal and became a lady-in-waiting to Philip’s irresistible fourteen-year-old bride, Elisabeth. The story that unfolds—centering on a love triangle involving the young queen, the king, and his illegitimate half-brother, Don Juan—is drenched in lavish details of sixteenth-century life, love, and art. Turn to virtually any page of this swoon-worthy blend of mystery, romance, and history and you’ll find an incandescent description of a sight, a smell, a touch: “It was a chill day in late February. A wind full of the smell of dead vegetables rattled the few withered leaves that clung tenaciously to the elms across the river and snatched at our veils and cloaks.” Cullen obviously immersed herself in the history of Spain’s Golden Age, but she never allows her research to outmuscle the story told by her graceful and intelligent narrator. “The maestro of maestros had a head like a cannonball, the thick high cheekbones of a Slav, and a squashed nose,” Sofonisba says of Michelangelo. “His sharp eyes were so deeply set it was impossible to determine their color . . . His hands were so calloused they looked to be made of the stone in which he worked.”

David Fulmer

Longtime Atlanta author David Fulmer’s latest novel, The Fall, is a departure from his historical mysteries (The Blue Door, Jass) in artistic and pragmatic ways. Artistically, it’s contemporary and told in first person. And with this novel, Fulmer has taken control of his own publishing fate to a certain extent; he and two partners are enticing investors into a venture called Five Stones Press. It’s an interesting business model (investors buy into it based on an author’s track record), and it may offer some hope for midlist writers increasingly lost in a publishing world obsessed with blockbusters. The Fall is a solid test case—a compelling story that begins with a poetically rendered tumble off a cliff and develops into a murder mystery fraught with old flames and small-town drama. Fulmer’s plotting is dead-on, and his prose is as evocative as ever: “Squat-bodied, with large, bad teeth planted in a thick and florid face, he still reminded me of a pumpkin, and now one that had been sitting out after the holiday.”

Also this month

Hold up the Sky by Patricia Sprinkle
(NAL Accent, $15 paperback)
Atlanta writer Patricia Sprinkle has written some twenty mysteries over the past twenty-two years, but her latest novel is particularly satisfying chick lit. Four independent, disparate women who are going through individual “droughts of the spirit” come together on a Georgia farm during a literal drought and discover strength in numbers. Sprinkle’s writing is sentimental but buffed to a fine shine: “Some people keep memories in scrapbooks or diaries,” she begins. “Mine are preserved in quart Ball jars. They sit on my pantry shelves in shining rows.”

Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA by Maryn McKenna
(Free Press, $26)
Maryn McKenna, who covered the CDC for years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, draws on scalpel-sharp investigative skills to track the rising danger of the bacteria MRSA. The pathogen once thought to be confined to hospitals now seems to be thriving in our homes as well, killing 19,000 Americans a year and rapidly evolving to resist antibiotics, McKenna reveals. It’s a scary and important book, as McKenna makes the case that the medical community hasn’t yet grasped the scope of the danger.