Five Decembers (Hard Case Crime, 2021) by Jonathan Moore writing under the name of James Kestrel won the Edgar Award for Best Novel last Thursday night at the annual meeting of Mystery Writers of America. Moore is the author of half a dozen noirish thrillers, the last of which was nominated for an Edgar in 2020. His publishers celebrated the prestigious award by reducing the price of the book, so many of us snapped it up.
The basic plot is a police procedural in which the investigation gets caught up by the U.S. entry into World War II. Joe McGrady was raised as a Navy brat and enlisted in the Army in time for World War I. After leaving the Army he joined the Honolulu Police Department, where his non-native status keeps him at the bottom of the political pecking order. He’s the only one around over Thanksgiving weekend 1941 though when a report of a gory murder comes in. He dives headfirst into the investigation, which puts him on the trail of a suspect named John Smith who left Hawaii on a clipper crossing the Pacific. McGrady follows, landing in Tokyo just as war between Japan and the U.S. is officially declared. At that point survival takes precedence but McGrady never forgets the crime or the suspect.
What struck me immediately is the similarity of the book’s structure to the Newbery Award-winning young adult book Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt (Follett, 1964). It too is set in a nation at war, beginning in April 1861 with the attack on Fort Sumter and ending in April 1865 a few months after the surrender at Appomattox. Five Decembers begins with the attack on Pearl Harbor and ends a few months after Japan’s surrender. I wonder if Moore knows about this YA book.
The writing as stated elsewhere is exquisite with powerful imagery: Tornadoes of flame danced toward each other. They met and became swirling columns of fire… My only objection to the plot is the idea that every woman who met McGrady fell in love with him. It is a false note in an otherwise highly readable story.
Edgar Award for Best Novel. Starred review from Library Journal, starred review from Publishers Weekly as well as Editor's Choice, starred review from Booklist and one of Booklist's Best Books of the Year.
· ASIN: B08THH7R49
· Publisher: Hard Case Crime (October 26, 2021)
· Publication date: October 26, 2021
· Language: English
· File size: 1543 KB
Aubrey Nye Hamilton ©2022
Aubrey Hamilton is a former librarian who works on Federal It projects by day and reads mysteries at night.