My introduction to the great work of Elizabeth Engstrom was with the classic When Darkness Loves Us. It instantly became a favorite, but for some stupid reason I didn't read anything else by her for a few years. Then I happened upon a trade paperback of Lizard Wine at a thrift store. I loved it even more than When Darkness Loves Us, and I went on to other titles by Engstrom.

Lizard Wine remained my favorite, even after reading phenomenal books like Guys Named Bob, The Itinerant, Black Ambrosia, and Candyland.

York's Moon was originally published in hardcover in 2011, from Five Star Books. I wanted to read it, but used copies are scarce and expensive. I am glad I never succumbed to temptation, because York's Moon is now out in trade paperback from IFD Publishing, with a stunning Alan M. Clark cover.

Hey, Lizard Wine! As Duckie said to Andie in Pretty in Pink, "You've been replaced!"

York's Moon is magnificent and is easily my favorite Elizabeth Engstrom novel. I'm glad I waited to read it, because not only was the paperback cheaper than a hardcover at the secondary markets, Engstrom presumably got a royalty from my purchase.

York's Moon is ostensibly a mystery/suspense novel, but it is really a study of a diverse group of complicated characters.

York, a gentle homeless senior citizen, is the spiritual head of a hobo encampment outside a small town. The group is illegally squatting, but since they are harmless, official eyes look the other way. When a man is thrown from a passing train and is found dead near the camp, all that changes. York's benevolent little community is threatened by greedy and violent town forces.

Sometimes when even a good writer has a large group of characters in a novel, I have trouble distinguishing one from another. This is not the case with York's Moon. Each in individual in the story is finely drawn and I Immediately knew them all.

You have York, a blind old man who runs a clean camp, and who sees forebodings in the cycle of the moon.

Clover, a goodhearted young woman from the town who cares for her homeless friends.

Clover's mother, Eileen, a burned out, alcoholic wreck of a human being, desperate for acceptance or love from any source.

Sly, a Vietnam War vet with PTSD who still fights battles in his paranoid mind.

Denny, a young itinerant whose boyish nature is irresistible to women.

Sheriff Goddard, a decent man trying to maintain justice against the amoral political system in his town.

Deputy Travis, who is spineless, but dangerous and easy to manipulate.

Mayor Milo Grimes, a corrupt walking time bomb.

Suzie Marie, the Mayor's cruel nymphomaniac wife.

Brenda, a lonely, aging woman looking for meaning in her sad life.

Then there is the identity of the murdered man, and the motivations behind his death.

These and other characters are all players in a psychodrama surrounding the homeless camp. Mayor Grimes is determined to have them removed from the land by any means possible, while the hobos are equally determined to hold their ground.

The wonderful thing about Elizabeth Engstrom is the compassion she has for her characters. Even the most despicable of them. They are all damaged individuals, just as we readers are damaged in our own ways. It's all too easy to relate to them.

Grady Hendrix shined a light on Elizabeth Engstrom in Paperbacks From Hell, and Valancourt Books has reprinted When Darkness Loves Us, Black Ambrosia, and a short story collection called Nightmare Flower. I applaud that, but it isn't enough. I haven't spoken to anyone who has read the harrowing Guys Named Bob, for instance. I even asked Hendrix about it, and he had not heard of it. It's high time Elizabeth Engstrom got the recognition she richly deserves.

Written by Mark Sieber

No comments

The author does not allow comments to this entry