The Last Best Book — Ordinary Grace, by William Kent Krueger

—the latest in an occasional series of raves about books I love—

Ordinary Grace

Ordinary Grace, by William Kent Krueger (Atria Books, 2013)

Last May, I gave a book talk at a rural library about 50 miles from my home. I was just back from Malice Domestic, and the staff, Friends of the Library, and patrons helped me celebrate my Agatha win. Naturally, we talked about other Agatha winners, and the winners of the Edgar Awards, which had been given out a few days before Malice. One woman confessed her dismay that her favorite author, Louise Penny, had not won the Edgar Award for Best Novel for How the Light Gets In. She’d immediately bought the winning book, Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace, convinced that it could not possibly deserve the award. She read it in two nights, and now has two favorite authors.

Took me a little longer to get to it. My friend was right, and I too now have another favorite author.

Less a crime novel than a coming-of-age story exploring the effects of death—both accidental and criminal—on a family and on a community, Ordinary Grace is simply stunning. Thirteen year old Frank Drum tells the story of the five deaths in the summer of 1961 in a small Minnesota town, each different, each leaving a permanent mark that makes Frank a different man than he might otherwise have become. He’s the son of a minister, whose experience in the war diverted him from his plans to be a lawyer, and a musician who is not as keen on God as her husband is. Frank’s older sister Ariel is a brilliant musician; his younger brother Jake is both his best friend and a bit of a mystery.

The language is beautiful, but because Krueger is also a mystery writer, it never overwhelms the story, but always serves character and plot.

I read the audio version. (And yes, I read audio books. It is a different experience, but it’s still reading, even though it uses the ears and not the eyes.) The narrator did a terrific job, infusing Frank’s  narration with just the right mixture of knowing and innocence. He also slipped in a bit of the Minnesota accent—but not too much—and captured beautifully the way a Sioux man of Warren Redstone’s age would speak.

I’m so glad my friend in Ronan read this book and recommended it to me. Now I’m recommending it to you.

(I got this book from my local library.)

Garner on terminology

GarnerGarner’s Modern American Usage is a reference you should all have.

“Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day

judge; justice.

In American English, as a general rule, judges sitting on the highest appellate level of a jurisdiction are known as “justices.” Trial judges and appellate judges on intermediate levels are generally called “judges,” not “justices.”

New York and Texas depart from these rules of thumb. In New York, “justices” sit on the trial court of general jurisdiction (called the Supreme Court, oddly), whereas “judges” sit on the appellate courts. In Texas, “justices” sit on the courts of appeals (between the trial court and the Supreme Court — the latter being the highest civil court, which is also composed of “justices”); “judges” sit on trial courts and on the Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest criminal court.

H.W. Horwill wrote that “‘judge’ carries with it in America by no means such dignified associations as it possesses in Eng. It may mean [in American English] no more than a magistrate of a police court.” Modern American Usage 180 (2d ed. 1944). “Justice” may also denote, in American and British English alike, a low-ranking judge or inferior magistrate, as in the phrases “justice of the peace” and “police justice.””