Tyndale House Publishers|August 17, 2012|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-1-4143-6842-9
He’s a gambler at best. A con artist at worst,” her aunt had said of the handlebar-mustached man who snatched Ella Wallace away from her dreams of studying art in France. Eighteen years later, that man has disappeared, leaving Ella alone and struggling to support her three sons. While the world is embroiled in World War I, Ella fights her own personal battle to keep the mystical Florida land that has been in her family for generations from the hands of an unscrupulous banker. When a mysterious man arrives at Ella’s door in an unconventional way, he convinces her he can help her avoid foreclosure, and a tenuous trust begins. But as the fight for Ella’s land intensifies, it becomes evident that things are not as they appear. Hypocrisy and murder soon shake the coastal town of Apalachicola and jeopardize Ella’s family.
Vivid descriptions, southern realism, and great story telling had me drawn in from the first page. Michael Morris knows how to weave a tale that will keep you turning page after page after page.
Thirty-five-year-old, Ella Wallace owned and operated a store in Dead Lakes, Florida. She was on the verge of financial and emotional collapse. At age 17, Ella had married Harlan Wallace much against her Aunt’s wishes. Her Aunt had tried to warn Ella that Harlan was a gambler and a con-artist. Harlan was taking Ella away from her dreams of studying art in France. Now, eighteen years later, Ella’s dreams have been dashed and she has 3 sons to care for and a store to save from foreclosure.
Ella held two letters in her hand; one from the Blue Moon Clock Company and the other from Gillespie Savings and Loan. She could either scrape together enough money to make a partial payment on the second mortgage Harlan had taken out on their property, or she could gamble on paying freight charges for a clock Harlan must have ordered before he disappeared. She thought at least with the clock she stood a chance of selling it and making a profit and the letter said the clock was paid for in full. If she got the clock, sold it at a profit then she could make a higher payment on the past-due loan. For the past three months, the bank loan had been paid in portions that never equaled the total amount due. Clive Gillespie had been pushing Ella to sell him the property but that was the last thing she wanted to do.
Harlan had left Ella in a lot of debt when he disappeared and the land that he had taken over as his own was the last possession of her father’s that she had left. Everything else had been sold, one by one, to cover Harlan’s debts. The property had been in her family for two generations and her father, upon his deathbed had given Ella strict instructions to use the land but never sell it as it was her birthright. Ella never knew that Harlan had taken out a second mortgage on the place until told by Clive Gillespie. She tried to tell him that she never signed for a second mortgage and that Harlan had forged her signature, but he didn’t believe her.
Ella has 3 children: Macon, age 6; Keaton, age 13; and Samuel, age 16. Macon was suffering with a virus that swelled his throat and caused blisters the size of quarters to cover his lips. The boy was very clearly suffering and to compound things the boy also had asthma. Nothing that Ella or the doctor did alleviated his symptoms which caused another worry for poor Ella.
Two of the boys hitched their mule to the wagon so they could head into town to collect her delivery from the Blue Moon Clock Company. Being a grandfather clock she’d be able to sell it for a lot more money than if it was a mantle clock. Constant worry about the payments to Gillespie Saving and Loan were draining Ella to the point she was almost physically ill. However, little does Ella know that the contents of this box is going to change her life forever.
Suddenly a mysterious man appears at her property claiming to be a relative of Harlan’s. He told Ella “Harlan’s daddy was my mama’s first cousin”. Ella told the man, who said his name was Lanier Stillis that she didn’t want any trouble and asked him to leave. After much discussion she agreed to let him stay one night in the barn but the following day she expected him to be gone. Lanier finally convinced Ella that he could help her and he stays. Their relationship was strained and Ella didn’t fully trust this mysterious man.
One afternoon, Deputy Ronnie Eubanks stepped into Ella’s store, handed her a letter and said “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Ella.” Ella knew before she even opened the letter what it contained and she was right. It was foreclosure papers on her property from Clive Gillespie. Ella sat outside on the stoop and thought until an idea came to her. She approached Lanier and asked him if he could cut timber and he said “yes”. Ella figured if she cut timber down on her property and sold it, she might just make enough money to stop the foreclosure but she had only 45 days to complete the job – both cut and sold. Can they do it?
There is a great line-up of characters in this novel who have been well-developed and their voices are authentic. The sense and feeling of community shines through and you’ll discover many lessons to be learned. Michael Morris has created a story with back-bone, but yet you’ll find and feel a sense of innocence in some of the characters. The secondary characters are also what makes this story work so well. You want to keep track of them all and not miss a single word or sentence about them. It’s the unknown that also keeps you reading, there is so much emotion packed into this novel, so much wanting and desire for Ella to succeed that you can’t seem to read fast enough to get to the next part. In parts I was sweating and biting my nails, in other parts I was laughing and chuckling, and other parts I was just mesmerized by the sheer poetry of the words.
I’ll say for certain my two most favourite characters were Ella, who is an immensely strong woman, and Lanier who is the type of person you just can’t help but like. The most despised character for me was Clive Gillespie. All the characters are quirky and literally leap off the page, you’re almost equally as interested in one as you are the other. Of course, being a small town, there is the realism of nosiness and gossip of neighbours, The amount of emotion the story made me feel is the sign of a great writer and Michael Morris certainly fits that mould well. I’ll tell you though, at times, that Clive Gillespie had me spitting nails!
Man in the Blue Moon was a treasure to read. The complexity and depth is amazing. I’ll definitely be referring my friends to this masterpiece. Well done, Mr. Morris!