Looking for another ‘Cold Mountain’

by DG Martin

North Carolina readers have been waiting for Charles Frazier’s second book.

His first, Cold Mountain, published in 1997, captivated us with its power and depth. Four million people bought the book, and more saw the movie. We are proud that Charles Frazier set his best-selling book in his home state.

Last week, we learned that Frazier’s new novel Thirteen Moons will come out in October. To recover the $8 million advance it paid to Frazier, the publisher, Random House, must sell more than a half-million copies.

Like Cold Mountain, Thirteen Moons is an epic love story set in the 19th century. But it is set, not in the Civil War, but in the context of the struggle of the Cherokee peoples to preserve their lands and culture.

Can Thirteen Moons repeat the success of Cold Mountain? The odds are against it. The novels that follow best-selling first novels seldom do as well. Nevertheless, my bet is on Frazier to score again.

Although we will have to wait until the fall to read Thirteen Moons, four other North Carolina writers are coming out with potential ‘“blockbusters’” during the next few weeks.

‘ Former Charlotte Observer reporter and columnist Dot Jackson releases her first novel, Refuge, this week. Coincidently, the female lead character of her book, like the one in Cold Mountain, leaves her Charleston home for a hard life in the Appalachian Mountains. Because Jackson is a natural and practiced storyteller, at ease with the voices of our mountains, her story may capture readers with a power that is similar to Cold Mountain.

‘ Another potential bestseller has Charlotte Observer connections. Grievances by former Observer reporter and editor Mark Ethridge will be released in a few weeks. This story of investigative journalism gives an inside look at the operation of the fictional Charlotte Times, which is obviously modeled on the Charlotte Observer. The newspaper’s reporters help solve an old racial murder in a small South Carolina town near the big US Savannah River Site and win the Pulitzer Prize.

Pat Conroy says that Ethridge ‘“has told a story as riveting as the best Grisham courtroom thriller.’”

If other readers agree with Conroy, Grievances will soon be on the bestseller lists.

Another North Carolina author’s first novel also earned Pat Conroy’s praise. John Hart’s The King of Lies will be released on May 16. Set in Salisbury where the author grew up and practiced law, this murder mystery takes its readers inside the North Carolina criminal justice system while it teases them with leads about the murderer and the motive.

According to Pat Conroy, ‘“The King of Lies moves and reads like a book on fire. The author is a lawyer who knows his way around the courtrooms and jailhouses, the cops and judges, the way that Grisham and Turow do. Smart and swiftly moving, The King of Lies is the work of an amazing new talent.’”

Hart’s chances of reaching the bestseller list are bolstered by the publisher’s promotional efforts. It ordered a first printing of 75,000 copies. Five major book clubs, including Book-of-the-Month, have selected the book.

I think The King of Lies will put Salisbury on the map just like Jan Karon’s Mitford series did to Blowing Rock.

Back to Mondo Passo by Hillsborough’s David Payne is scheduled for release in June. As a complex and rich literary effort, it is perhaps closer than the other new books to Cold Mountain. Set primarily on a South Carolina low country plantation, there are important connections to North Carolina and to Charleston. The action alternates between Civil War times and the recent past. It is a saga of family, music, war, romance across racial lines, African-Cuban religion, magic and murder.

Pat Conroy’s praise is unrestrained, saying that it ‘“quivers with authentic life and is so bold in concept and audacious in scope that it seems like the summing up and exclamation point of a great writer’s career . . . . Payne takes on the whole known world and pulls it off with the deftness of a writer in his prime.’”

Like Cold Mountain, Mondo Passo could turn out to be both a best seller and a modern masterpiece.