Out From Silence, A Thornton Mystery by C.L. Tolbert-Book Review (Part I: Mystery Writers)
After graduating with my MFA last year, I was looking for a workshop group and ended up joining Atlanta Writers Club. One of the member perks is access to writing workshop groups. I was super lucky to find a wonderfully diverse group of women writers on the first round and this is where I met Cynthia Tolbert, author of Out From Silence. The group is currently reading her second novel in a series of three Thornton Mysteries she is under contract to write. One per year, ya’ll! I admit, I typically do not read mysteries, other than the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle type, but Tolbert has turned me into a fan of the genre. I am proud to be part of her process for the second novel, The Redemption, and am proud to count her in my group of fellow writers as well as a friend. Look for an interview with Tolbert next week, followed by a guest post from Tolbert on mystery writing the week after.
Out From Silence is a fast-paced, plot driven, mystery novel that you keeps you turning pages into the late hours. I stayed up until 4:00 a.m. to finish it last Saturday. It opens with a brutal murder, throwing the reader right into the action. The main character, Emma Thornton, is a single mother of twin boys. She juggles going to law school and working as a law clerk. Tolbert portrays the anxieties of motherhood very well, making the reader instantly relate to Emma. With a full plate, Emma doesn’t really have time for romance, but she’s definitely interested in Deputy Ren Taylor. This is a big no-no, too. Emma is working for Silas Steele, III, the attorney hired to defend Adam Gannon on murder charges and Ren is the working the homicide. Although they make a good team, Emma is absolutely running the show.
The setting is small town Jonesburg, Georgia described as a “college town…as charming as a Eudora Welty novel…where daffodils sprouted by the thousands…and drunken writers, poets, and musicians gathered in its watering holes…idyllic…Perfect, almost.” I couldn’t do a better job of summing up this town than Tolbert. Perfect, almost? Everyone knows everyone, and even some of the more famous family feuds. There’s a fifty year old secret that reveals itself in the murder of Jennifer Patrick and Emma is smack in the middle of it, going way beyond her job duties, and taking extreme personal risks to discover the truth.
Adam Gannon, the ex-boyfriend of the victim, Jennifer Patrick, makes for an easy suspect. If you watch enough true crime, it’s always the disgruntled husband, fiancé, or significant other who is the killer. Unfortunately for Adam, what makes him an easy conviction is his disability; Adam is deaf. He also has anger issues, appears uncooperative, and his disability puts him at a great disadvantage, especially when law enforcement comes knocking on his door and he signs off on a search without fully understanding what he is approving or what his rights are. Although this is a mystery with all the elements of the genre, Tolbert’s novel does much more by advocating for people with disabilities. It was eye-opening for me. I never considered the world through the eyes of Adam. This is an quote from early on when the reader is getting to know Adam: “Deaf from infancy, Adam was a lip reader, and although he only understood a fraction of what others said, he’d learned to observe body language and facial expressions. From that, he developed a better understanding of speech, and people’s idiosyncrasies. An expert mimic, he was also an artist, and a quick study in most sports. His skills convinced others that he understood what was being said when he often didn’t. By the time Adam had figured out the context of the conversation, most people had already moved on. He missed subtleties. This disconnect made Adam feel isolated and alone and his parents had little patience with him. He felt as if he was living underwater and everyone else was on top” (21-22). People with disabilities are underrepresented in literature, film, and art in general, so it was refreshing to read a book with a central character who faced these particular challenges. I applaud Tolbert for this. Plus, as you can see she knows her stuff. Before Tolbert became an attorney, she got a Masters in Special Education and worked with disabled children.
Tolbert has an innate ability to capture a character in one paragraph. Any writer, but especially short story writers, would do well to study Tolbert’s method of introducing a character in such a brief and precise manner. It fits perfectly with Emma’s personality as well. Emma is intuitive, curious, intelligent and much like some of her favorite sleuths with mad powers of observation, she makes rapid-fire assessments about the other characters. I could provide endless examples here. Typically, these summations are done when a new character is introduced, which makes sense, but Emma uses her ability throughout. Her desire to get to the bottom of things leads Emma down some dangerous paths, but the story wouldn’t have that thrill factor if Emma was some shrinking violet. Emma is a strong female protagonist with a mission.
Continuing on characterization, I love this particular description of Darcy Gannon, Adam’s mother: “She was as impeccably dressed as before, this time in well-fitted linen pants and shirt tailored to fit her lean body to perfection. She wore the same pearls at her neck and her lustrous hair was worn loosely about her shoulders. But she looked thinner. Even though her creamy-soft skin was unblemished, the hollows under her eyes were lavender-tinged and deeper. Darcy welcomed Emma graciously, but Emma questioned the sincerity of her hospitality. Darcy reminded Emma of the women from the First Baptist Church back home. Her smile seemed strained and insincere, like a beauty pageant contestant who’d been on the stage fifteen minutes too long. Her face twitched with the sheer effort it took to be pleasant. Detached, despite her sunny façade. Darcy didn’t maintain eye contact, and her handshake was a cold and clammy grasp (49).” That’s just good writing right there. Strap yourself in for more of it, because Emma Thornton is coming back in the second novel, The Redemption. I am certainly looking forward to it.
To purchase a copy: OUT FROM SILENCE (via Amazon)
About C.L. Tolbert:
In 2010, Cynthia Tolbert won the Georgia Bar Journal’s fiction contest for the short story version of OUT FROM SILENCE. That story is now the first full-length novel of the Thornton Mystery Series, which was published by Level Best Books in December of 2019. OUT FROM SILENCE is Tolbert’s first novel and was nominated for Georgia Author of the Year under the first novel category. She is currently writing her second novel in this same series entitled THE REDEMPTION, which is set in New Orleans. This book is scheduled to be published in December of 2020.
Ms. Tolbert has a Master’s in Special Education and taught children with learning disabilities before moving on to law school. She spent most of her legal career working as defense counsel to large corporations and traveled throughout the country as regional and national counsel. She also had the unique opportunity of teaching third-year law students in a clinical program at a law school in New Orleans where she ran the Homelessness Law Clinic and learned, firsthand, about poverty in that city. The experiences and impressions she has collected from the past forty years contribute to the stories she writes today.
She has four children, and three grandchildren, and lives in Atlanta with her husband and schnauzer. To learn even more about C.L. Tolbert, visit her author website at: www.cltolbert.com
To contact C.L. Tolbert: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Live the story you want to write!
The Bookmobile is Here (OR NOT)!
When I lived in rural Missouri about twice per year our teachers would remind us to bring money for the Bookmobile. The Bookmobile–for those who are unfamiliar–provided kids in remote areas a place to purchase books. As the name implies, it was a travelling library. Nowadays, you may have come across PopUp Libraries at your local farmer’s market.
The Bookmobile was a beast and sat for hours pumping out exhaust fumes while the various grades had their turn. I vividly recall the sound of the hydraulic bus door opening (swoosh), and then it was three steps into subzero air-conditioning and the utter joy of being surrounded by books. Ahh…Library Eau de Perfume. If someone bottled up the aroma of books, I’d buy it.
This was a time when my family was not financially sound, well, let’s just be honest, we were pretty poor back then. I had mixed feelings about the Bookmobile. First, I would have to ask my mom for money I knew she didn’t have. Two, I really, really, really wanted the next adventure story. Finally, all my friends would leave with a stack of books, making me ashamed that my stack of one book (or sometimes none) would appear meager.
Don’t start crying for me yet. I have more than made up for my desire for books and am now running out of space. Do I have deep-seated book trauma and count myself as a book-hoarder? Probably. Also, keep in mind the school had a small library and I had access to larger libraries. It wasn’t that rough.
During the summer while my mom was attending nursing school and my father was working out of state, mom dropped us off at our local library and picked us up after her school let out in the afternoon. I’m not suggesting you use your local library as free daycare (sorry mom for calling you out), but the point is you have to take kids to the source. In this time of quarantine, my library is closed and while the library has tons of online options for kids and adults alike, you cannot check out actual hard copy books. This has got me thinking…
What if you don’t have access to an e-reader or even an online connection? We did a Zoom family Easter brunch this past Sunday and my cousin who is a teacher in a low-income school district in California mentioned that she isn’t currently teaching her kids because many do not have access to computers and/or the internet. It’s hard to imagine that this exists in America today, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, these kids stopped learning. She misses them terribly! My son, by contrast, was given a portable hotspot device to access free WIFI and has daily online classes. When the pandemic hit, Atlanta Public Schools responded quickly and he didn’t miss one day of class. I started wondering about kids in situations like this and began researching alternatives. This doesn’t solve the teaching issue, but perhaps, offers something else to those who don’t have what we consider to be the basics. By the way, I believe reading is an essential–a right we all should have!
You can easily find options to access free online books from non-profit resources to the library, but there are few options for kids who do not have online access. I hope that anyone reading this post will comment with more alternatives, but for now, here are a few I found (literally a few):
First Book: Partners with non-profit organizations, corporations, and individuals to deliver high-quality books to low-income families.
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library: Mails free books to children from birth to age five residing in participating communities in the U.S., Canada, U.K., and the Republic of Ireland. Another reason to love Dolly.
Reading is Fundamental: Provides new books to children across the U.S. Children are allowed to choose age-appropriate books to build their own library.
PJ Library: Mails free books monthly to Jewish families around the world ages 0-12.
Please share this post with librarians, educators, friends, and family who may know of other alternatives for the delivery of hard copy books. Also, please consider donating to these organizations either financially and/or with book donations to help support these causes.
Happy Writing AND Reading!
GRIT LIT PART III: Guest Blog with Author, Clay Anderson
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with Clay Anderson these past three weeks on this Grit Lit Series. Hope y’all have as well and now have a better insight into the genre and into Anderson and his own work. Here are some final thoughts from Anderson regarding his journey into Rough South Literature.
I was first introduced to Grit Lit my sophomore year in college. I took as an elective a Modern South English class. One of the books we read was Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree and I was immediately enthralled with his portrayal of the underclass. The dark and complicated characters mixed with his elegant prose had me hooked. I read through his whole canon by the time we reached the end of the semester. During a discussion with the professor about my new obsession, I was introduced to the “Grit Lit.” I’d never heard the phrase before and my professor described it as the underbelly of Southern Literature.
I was given a list of authors and began reading everything I could by them. Starting with William Gay, I moved on to Harry Crews, Dorothy Allison, Breece D’J Pancake, Chris Offutt, Dale Ray Phillips, George Singleton, Ron Rash, Daniel Woodrell, David Joy, and Ann Pancake.
As I continued along this literary journey, I learned new phrases to describe several of these authors: they were writers of “dirty realism,” trailer-park Gothic, and country noir. I didn’t know at the time that even within the category of Grit Lit that was one even coarser: Rough South. It has been said that Southern Literature is Mint Juleps, Grit Lit is Jack Daniels, and Rough South is Natty Light and crystal meth. Rough South is defined as “mostly poor, white, rural, and unquestionably violent – Grit Lit’s wilder kin or Grit Lit with its back against the wall and somebody’s going to get hurt” (Brian Carpenter).
It is in this latter column that I throw my hat in. Not out of some obsession with violence or shock value, but because I am obsessed with realism and anything less is lying to the reader. When asked what that looks like, I describe a fist fight. Unless one is a trained boxer, the character won’t knock out their opponent with one punch. Realistically, it will take four or five punches with lots of blood and teeth and tears. For me, it’s that demarcation that separates Southern Lit from Rough South. And it’s that realism that I’m drawn to.
For those wanting a crash course in Rough South, I’d encourage you to read:
William Gay’s Provinces of Night
Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God
Harry Crew’s Feast of Snakes
David Joy’s The Line that Held Us
Chris Offutt’s Kentucky Straight
Bonnie Jo Campbell’s American Salvage
Ron Rash’s The World Made Straight
Michael Ferris Smith’s Desperation Road
Frank Bill’s Crimes of Southern Indiana
And, with the shameless plug, Clay Anderson’s The Palms
More About Author and Guest Blogger, Clay Anderson:
About Clay Anderson:
Clay Anderson is an Adjunct Professor of History at Reinhardt University in Waleska, Georgia. He received his BA in History from Kennesaw State University and MA from Mississippi State University. He has seven diverse publications in fiction and non-fiction. These publications include two non-fiction book reviews in Texas Books in Review and East Texas Historical Journal, one non-fiction article in the Journal of Big Bend Studies, and four fiction short stories in the Fourth World Journal, Adelaide Literary Award Anthology 2019 and 2020, and The Bangalore Review. He is currently an MFA student in Creative Writing at Reinhardt University. The Palms is his first novel and was nominated for Georgia Author of the Year under the first novel category. Clay lives in the North Georgia mountains with his two dogs and has recently opened a bookstore called the Bear Book Market in Dahlonega, Georgia.
To Follow BEAR BOOK MARKET: