Post Road Magazine #9

Time's Witness by Michael Malone -Tim Cockey

Has anybody out there heard of the writer Michael Malone? What? You haven't? Then by all means drop what you're doing (and that includes reading this recommendation) and run out and purchase, oh . . . how about all of his books?

I first discovered Michael Malone when I was a fledgling novelist embarking on my fledgling novel. The book of Michael's that caught me was Time's Witness. Upon reading it I was immediately inspired in two opposing directions. The one direction can be summed up as: Doggone it, this is the book I wanted to write and now it has already been written! The other: God (or whoever) grant me the skills and opportunity to try to write a book like this.

For the record, I'm still trying.

Now I'm talking in this case of what is generally classified as a mystery book. And at the time I certainly wasn't seeing myself as one day being a mystery writer. What I was seeing in Time's Witness was a book with a truly engaging voice (the narrator, Cuddy Magnum) and a wonderfully wrought set of characters (sly, tragic, comic, wicked, noble), along with a story that was gripping on the social level as well as the personal. Never too heavy, never too light. Yes, the Goldilocks of books. Just right.

Several years after my first reading of the book would see me in New York City, between apartments (as they say), and spending a summer of very short-term inhabitings of the apartments of friends (or friends of friends) who were away on vacation. And as I left every apartment I would leave behind a thank-you note and a copy of Time's Witness. And I batted 1000. Each person later contacted me to let me know what a wonderful time they had reading the book.

And Malone is no one-book-wonder. Nor a one-genre wonder. If you want a modern day Don Quixote . . . or at any rate, a quixotic madcap road trip of a book, there's Handling Sin. If you want a Robertson Davies-like comedy concerning a possibly unearthed manuscript by Sir Walter Raleigh (aren't you always scouring the shelf for just such a book?), there's Foolscap. If you want to ladle in the other two books that deal with the same piece of turf and characters as Time's Witness there is Uncivil Seasons (listed by several independent bookstores as one of their top 100 favorite books) as well as the more recent First Lady. And there is also a collection of short stories (Red Clay, Blue Cadillac) of which I can so far attest to loving the first 50 percent of the collection. I've throttled back on the book so that I can do a little savoring.

Michael Malone's favorite writer is a guy named Dickens. We know this guy, right? Great characters? Wonderful humor slipped right in there with gripping pathos? Lots of local color? Themes? Entertainment? Exactly all the good stuff.

So there you have it. If I were crashing on your couch for a week you could be guaranteed to have a copy of Time's Witness waiting for you on the coffee table when you got home. The good news for me is that I once again have my own place. The good news for you is that you didn't have to leave home in order to get this book recommendation. I envy your opportunity to read Michael Malone for the first time •

Tim Cockey is the autor of The Hearse You Came in On, Hearse of a Different Color, The Hearse Case Scenario, Murder in the Hearse Degree, and due out in July 2004, Backstabber, all from Hyperion Books. The first chapters of all five books (along with other assorted tidbits) can be found at www.timcockey.com

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