Meadowlark Author Mike Graves virtually accepted the J. Donald Coffin Book Award at the 2020 Kansas Authors Club Convention for his latest book in the Pete Stone series: All Hallows' Shadows!
Judge William Sheldon had this to say about the book:
In All Hallows’ Shadows, Michael D. Graves serves up both homage and an original take on the hard-boiled detective genre. The mean streets of the novel are historic Wichita, Kansas, which Mr. Graves renders impeccably, edging in a history lesson with his mystery. Graves, an evident baseball fan, hits through the cycle of the genre’s tropes but does so in a manner entirely his own, realizing a style entirely his own. Out of a field of strong competition, my choice for the J. Donald Coffin Book Award is Michael D. Graves’s All Hallows’ Shadows.
Watch this video of Graves receiving the award at the convention (50 seconds in).
Learn more about Graves and his books on his author page.
For your reading pleasure, here is an excerpt from first and ninth chapters of the award-winning novel!
Grandma was Special
Even before she told me her story about seeing the ghost of her great uncle, I knew my grandma was special. She possessed a quiet patience, a dignity sometimes lacking in others. When a crisis arose, when others flitted and flew and squandered time and energy on futile gestures, Grandma waited and observed. She bided her time, thoughtful and calm. She peered into corners and gazed into shadows. Grandma noticed things that other people missed.
“It was cold that night, cold and clear and still. An early frost hung in the air, and I tucked the blanket up under my chin. Full moon shining. What was it Papa said? A dying grass moon, he called it. That was it. A dying grass moon, that full October moon. Trees going bare, long shadows, no stars. Some claimed that spirits stirred on such a night. An owl hooted. A twig snapped. I started, my little girl imagination turning to ghosts and goblins and such. A body felt mighty small beneath that prairie sky.”
“Were you scared, Grandma?”
“Oh, no, not really, not with Papa on one side and Momma on the other. I was safe. Our mare snorted and snuffed and leaned into the harness, blowing clouds of mist. The buggy creaked and rattled. I curled beneath the blanket and snuggled close to Momma. She slept on the seat, and her jowls jiggled as we passed over the rutted road. Papa dozed on my other side, reins loose over one hand. He’d snuck out behind the barn to tip a jug between dances, him and his pals, thinking the ladies would be none the wiser, and the ladies pretended they didn’t notice. Corn liquor had lifted his spirits and claimed his body. He fought sleep. His head bobbed and dropped, down, down, then snapped up like a fish hooked on a line. He popped open his eyes, twisted his neck, puffed his cheeks and blew a breath. He gazed into the darkness, got his bearings and did it all over again. His eyelids drooped, his head bobbed, his chin dropped. I tried not to giggle. I wondered why he just didn’t go to sleep. That mare knew the way home as well as Papa did, and she didn’t need any prodding to get there neither.”
Grandma’s chuckle spilled over her pink gums, and her tongue flicked over her lips. Her teary eyes squinted behind the tiny wire-framed glasses that rested on her nose. Light from a dim bulb haloed the white bun atop her head. She looked angelic.
“What about the ghost, Grandma? When did you see the ghost?”
“Well, as we drew near our place the road rose up over a narrow bridge that passed over a creek. That was our guidepost, our signal that home was just ahead, that bridge. The mare knew it, too, and she leaned forward and stepped a bit faster. That’s when I saw him, just out of the shadows, standing right there on that bridge in the light of the moon. I saw a tall man, a thin man, what we called gaunt. He wore long gray whiskers, and he had a black top hat. Under a dark coat he wore a red checkered vest with a gold chain draped across it.”
“Wow, a real ghost! Now were you scared?”
Grandma smiled and gathered me in with fleshy arms and dimpled elbows and lay my head against her breast. She patted my head and whispered.
“No, child, no I wasn’t afraid, not in the least. I grew rather calm. I saw no reason to be afraid, no reason at all. The man smiled at me and raised a hand and waved and nodded as we rolled by, and then he faded back into the shadows.”
Back Roads and Baseball
Emporia lay ninety miles or so to the north and east of Wichita. As I drove through the Flint Hills, I realized there were worse ways to spend a morning. Time behind the wheel of my car was time to think. I’ve always turned to back roads and baseball for answers to life’s riddles. I drove with the top up on the roadster and admired the rolling terrain and the tall prairie grass gone yellow, and I pondered how Henry Brown, Peanut, could have committed such a heinous crime as murder. I had plenty of time to ponder the question but not enough time to come up with an answer. The miles rolled by until the outline of buildings broke the horizon.
The community of Emporia was home to some fourteen thousand people along with the Kansas State Teachers College where Ida Mae Parsons took classes. It was a Saturday, and I doubted I would find her on campus. Before searching for her home address, I intended to ask for her at the pharmacy where she worked part time. College students who held down jobs often worked on the weekends.
I came in from the west side of the city and drove east on Sixth Street toward downtown. Pickup trucks and cars rolled along the thoroughfare, driven by residents who lived and worked in the community and farmers who came to town on the weekend to do their trading. When I reached the center of town at Commercial Street, I turned left and pulled up in front of a building with an Art Deco façade and a sign over the door that read Red X Pharmacy. Pedestrians in suits and dresses and khakis and overalls strolled on the walkways.
A bell tinkled when I opened the door to the drugstore, and I sensed movement toward the back. A male voice called out, “Be right with you.” Merchandise displays lined the walls. Toiletries, candies, writing supplies, tobacco products and dozens of other items filled the showcases toward the front with medicinal products offered toward the back of the store. Shelves were crowded but neatly arranged. A ceiling fan hummed overhead.
“How can I help you?”
The man who spoke wore a shirt and tie beneath a white bib apron. He identified himself as Joe Kowalski, proprietor, and I introduced myself and gave him a card.
“I understand that Miss Ida Mae Parsons works for you, or at least she did recently. I’d like to speak with her.”
He read my card, pursed his lips, and frowned.
“She’s in back,” Kowalski said, “counting inventory. I’ll tell her you’re here, but she may not want to talk to you. Like I said, she’s been upset over this.”
He disappeared for a moment and returned with a young woman walking behind him. She seemed reluctant to speak, but her voice was strong and clear.
“I’m Ida Mae. Mr. K. said you wanted to speak to me.”
I introduced myself and explained I had come to Emporia to investigate the death of Rosemary Joy Cleveland. She listened patiently to what I said.
“I’d like to talk to someone who knew Miss Cleveland. I understand you were her friend. Will you talk to me?”
She shifted from one foot to the other and glanced at a clock on the wall.
“I go to lunch in forty minutes. I could see you then I suppose.”
“Perfect,” I said. I’d noticed a diner at the other end of the block and asked her to meet me there. She agreed.
The diner had a few late morning customers, but the lunch crowd hadn’t arrived yet. Folks sipped coffee or munched on a doughnut or a sandwich. I took a booth in the rear and ordered coffee and asked the waitress to leave menus for two. I opened a copy of the Wichita newspaper I’d brought from home and lit a cigarette.
An elderly gentleman, he appeared to be in his late sixties or early seventies. A broad smile beamed over his dimpled chin. He wore a gray suit and a bow tie.
“Here,” he said. “As long as you’re visiting our community, you should read what we have to say.”
He handed me a copy of the local newspaper and tipped his hat and walked away, shaking hands and chatting with other patrons before leaving the diner. Of course, the local folks all knew William Allen White, the renowned owner and editor of The Emporia Gazette. I’d seen his picture in the papers and read about him more than once.
I skipped over the national news and scanned the local columns and advertisements. The Saint Joseph Church in Olpe was to host a benefit chicken dinner on Tuesday, all you could eat for forty cents. The local collage Hornets had stung the Yellowjackets of Superior State Teachers College the evening before by the score of 26 to 7. I speculated the return trip to northern Wisconsin would be long and subdued for the losers. The latest Oldsmobile models had arrived at Davis-Child Motors. Thunder in the City with Edward G. Robinson was playing at the Strand Theater while the Granada was showing 100 Men and a Girl with Deanna Durbin. The Tom Mix Circus had performed at the Fowler Grounds that week, and the Red X Pharmacy ran an advertisement for roll-your-own tobacco products. I turned to the back page, and a figure slipped into the booth across the table from me.
“I hope I’m doing the right thing,” Miss Parsons said. “I don’t know if I should be talking to you or not.”
“Let’s just talk,” I said. “Tell me about yourself.”
Ida Mae had met Rosemary Joy at the university in Wichita. They were assigned as lab partners in a biology class and soon developed a friendship that extended beyond the classroom. They had different majors, but they took classes together when they could. They studied together and ate meals together and shopped together. The waitress arrived with our food, but Ida Mae continued talking.
“We probably would have shared an apartment, but Rosemary Joy often lived with the folks she cared for, even before she graduated. We saw each other often, though.”
“I understand Rosemary Joy loved literature. She enjoyed reading. Is that true?”
“Oh, yes, she read all the time. Good literature, classic literature. Dickens and Austen and poets, too. She was a reader.”
“Did she own many books? None was found in her room at the boardinghouse.”
“No, I don’t think so. The books I recall her reading came from the library. She didn’t have money to buy books.”
“Did she write? Keep a diary?”
Ida Mae nodded.
“Yes, yes, she kept a diary. Wrote in it every night, too, she told me, but always when she was alone. Didn’t tell me anything else about it, though. Those were her most private thoughts, I guess. We were friends, sure, but her diary belonged to her and her alone.”
I made a mental note. Cleveland had kept a diary, but no diary had been recovered by the police.
“Sounds like you were close,” I said. “You must have met Henry Brown.”
“Peanut? Sure, I knew Peanut. Lots of times we’d be together, all three of us laughing or eating, maybe going to a movie.”
“I understand that they knew each other from the time when they were children,” I said, “but they didn’t have a romantic relationship. Is that correct?”
Ida Mae’s brow furrowed, and she looked puzzled.
“I thought you knew. Are you saying you don’t know?” she said.
“Know what?” I said.
She looked down at the table and shook her head, then she looked at me.
“Peanut Brown and Rosemary Joy,” she said. “They were brother and sister.”