The Four Corners of the Sky (Sourcebooks Landmark, 2009) by Hillsborough, N.C.-based author Michael Malone verges on epic. For starters, the book is 544 pages (good for long vacations, plane rides, rainy weekends; not so good for bathroom entertainment or deadlines). Secondly, it’s dense with back story and convolution (that’s convolution, not convulsion: Malone’s writing is thorough to the point of obsessive, but spastic the author is not). But neither the book’s length nor it’s meticulous detail should scare readers away—the journey laid out in Sky is well worth the effort.
The premise of this book is that Annie Goode, who was abandoned by her rogue father when she was 7 years old, has just been contacted by her errant parent. Now 26, Annie is self-sufficient and cynical, and has a huge chip on her shoulder. When her father left Annie with her Aunt, he told Annie he was giving her a plane. Spurred by that unconventional gift, Annie learned to fly and is now a skilled Navy pilot. She has, over the years, come to understand that her father’s trouble with the law and unpredictable nature are due to his unscrupulous dealings, but Annie doesn’t know exactly what sort of trouble her father is in. When he calls her, on her 26th birthday, he tells her he’s dying and needs her to come to him—with the plane.
What follows is the unfolding of a mystery: What are the secret codes Annie’s father has written in the plane and on the inside of her childhood ball cap? And why won’t he tell Annie the truth about her missing mother?
Other characters—Annie’s adopted uncle Clark, her best friend Georgette, her soon-to-be-ex husband Brad and the Miami Vice detective, Daniel Hart, who is eager to track down Annie’s father—are all woven into the telling. While all of the characters are colorful and rich, at times their individual complexities, when combined with the weighty details of Annie’s own past, make the text a bulky proposition.
But, Malone is hardly green when it comes to mystery writing. His bibliography includes some 10 titles, including 2005’s The Killing Club. He’s also seasoned in short story writing (Red Clay, Blue Cadillac: Stories of Twelve Southern Women) and worked as head writer for the soap operas Another World and One Life to Live (he won an Emmy in 1994 for his work on the latter).
That Sky is, at turns, impossibly dramatic (a giant emerald pendant hidden in the lining of a flight jacket, a Cuban with a penchant for stolen cell phones, expensive cars expertly maneuvered at high speeds) shouldn’t come as a surprise. Instead, given Malone’s proclivity toward bodice ripping and genre fiction, the real surprise is that Sky is anything but formulaic. It’s immaculate, tightly-crafted and thrilling from the first page.
Michael Malone appears at Malaprop’s on Saturday, May 9. The 7 p.m. reading is free. Info: 254-6734.
—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter