As the American writer and artist Elbert Hubbard once put it: "Life is just one damn thing after another."
Yes, it is — and is it ever — in The Skies Roared (Barringer Publishing) by Memphian Steve Bradshaw. And in its pages, that's where you'll find it: the above quote serving as an epigraph and one damn thing after another, not the least of which the first thing readers meet when the novel opens: a serial killer known as the Bluff City Butcher impaled on a spire on the roof of a mansion on Walnut Grove Road. Grisly? Sure is. No more grisly, though, than what readers were treated to in Bradshaw's Bluff City Butcher (2012) and what readers can expect to find in next year's closing title of this trilogy.
But back to that grisly opener: It's hardly the last such scene in a story that puts the Grand in Guignol. Blood and guts galore? And what's more: a wild boar? You have them here in The Skies Roared. And that's in addition to a front-row seat for an autopsy performed in the Shelby County morgue — an autopsy followed by a shooting spree, followed by a scene atop the Peabody, where one character hardly knows what hit him. But Elliott Sumner does.
Sumner is there on the Peabody roof when he spots a sniper who shoots the man Sumner is there to meet. Sumner survives by diving into a vent of the Peabody's duck house. The guy who gets shot? He doesn't duck and gets the back of his head blown off.
Sumner — a forensic pathologist, world-renowned hunter of serial killers, and a man blessed (cursed?) with a photographic memory and extraordinary sensory perception — was the star player in Bluff City Butcher, and, for those who haven't read that book, The Skies Roared fills in the back story and provides a handy list of primary characters before the story opens. Among the lead players, there's billionaire Albert Bell (owner of The Memphis Tribune newspaper), Carol Mason (the Tribune's Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter), geneticist Enrique Medino (who holds the key to biological immortality), and Adam Duncan (described simply as a "psychopath").
The author also provides a useful list of a secret society's board members. The society is known as Gilgamesh, and the international cast of aged board members are known for the money they've made, which amounts to a whopping $4.3 trillion. (Yes, trillion.) Those Gilgamesh members are up to no good in their pursuit of life everlasting. And the Bluff City Butcher (dead or alive?) may have a scion to carry on his crimes. Or, inspired by the epic hero Gilgamesh, are the Butcher and his boy in pursuit of a greater good?
Anyway you look at it, Gilgamesh (the secret society) spells big trouble, and that's for readers to learn of in this fast-paced, ingeniously plotted mystery/thriller by an author who knows his way around the dead or injured. Bradshaw was often first on the scene as a forensic investigator in Texas. He also knows his way around the world of medical technology and big business, having served as executive vice president of Lifeblood in Memphis and as founder/president/CEO of a company that specializes in orthopedic implants.
The past few years, though, Bradshaw has devoted his time to writing, and earlier this year, Bluff City Butcher was among the final four to be considered for the 2013 Darrell Award, handed annually to the best in Mid-South science fiction, fantasy, or horror. The award went to Frank Tuttle's The Broken Bell, but Bradshaw had to have been a major contender. The Skies Roared should make him more major. And his third title in this trilogy will complete what surely will stand as the longest, largely Memphis-set crime caper ever.
You're not into crime of the very bloody variety? The Skies Roared has another thing going for it: great chapter-heading epigraphs, including words of wisdom from the likes of Euripides, Shakespeare, and Voltaire, in addition to Cooper (Alice), Hinckley (John), and Levant (Oscar). Might I recommend an epigraph for Steve Bradshaw's final book in his Bluff City Butcher trilogy? It's another quote from Elbert Hubbard. It would ring true of Bradshaw's long list of the living and the dead. It would be this: "God will not look you over for medals, diplomas, or degrees but for scars."