Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Most Important Thing

Of the elements of a novel, background is one of the most important to me. I often choose my reading based simply on where the books are set. To other readers plot is the most important—and, of course, one doesn’t have a novel without a plot. But underlying all, character has to be supreme. If a reader doesn’t care about the characters it really doesn’t matter a lot where they are or what they are doing.

And Sally Wright is a master of character. She has the ability to create characters one cares about so much that reading at times can be a painful experience. This capacity is well-known to Wright’s long-time readers of her superb Ben Reese Mysteries. And now, in the newly released second of her Jo Grant Mysteries she gives us a supreme example of her art.

As a devoted reader I believe I have read every exquisitely chosen word Sally Wright has written and I’m delighted to say that Behind the Bonehouse has reached a new level of excellence. As always, Wright knows her stuff: She knows chemicals, she knows horses, she knows the Kentucky landscape, she knows family business.

The thing that raises her writing so far above the ordinary, however, is her knowledge of human nature. Wright knows what it means to be a frail human being living in an imperfect world. She creates true-to-live, psychologically satisfying characters from a knowledge of the darkness of the heart of man that exceeds William Golding’s. Sally Wright knows good and evil.

And she makes her readers care deeply about the people who fill her pages because she cares so deeply. Let me give you an example. Esther Wilkes is anything but a major character, yet no one is unimportant to Sally Wright. Here is how she brings Esther onto the stage:

Esther Wilkes climbed out of her husband’s rusty red Ford pickup, pulling herself up with her right hand clutching the top of the doorframe.
     She was a large woman. What some might’ve called stout. But she was firm looking, and she stood up straight, and her small-striped tan-and-blue dress fitted well and was perfectly pressed. She’d made the dress so it fell halfway between her knees and her ankles, and she’d sewn a belt of the same fabric, though neither of them looked homemade. She was wearing stockings, in spite of the heat, with lace-up black oxford shoes with sturdy squared-off heels. She carried a large brown pocketbook in one hand and a handkerchief she’d embroidered in the other, and she waved it once at her husband, before she blotted her forehead, as he backed out of the driveway and headed to work in Midway.

Thomas Carlyle famously said of Frederick the Great, “Genius means transcendent capacity of taking trouble, first of all.” If Carlyle had known Sally Wright he would have said it of her.

Take a look at  Behind the Bonehouse.

Posted by Donna Fletcher Crow whose newest release in her Monaastery Murders clerical mystery series is An All-Consuming Fire


  1. "She creates true-to-live, psychologically satisfying characters from a knowledge of the darkness of the heart of man that exceeds William Golding’s."

    Yep, you've got me, Donna. Off to Amazon to grab a copy of Sally's latest. Appreciate the recommendation. Creating substantial characters is always a challenge.

  2. Ian, Sally is a fine example of presenting faith with subtly. Hope you thoroughly enjoy it!