The Mystery of Grace
by Charles de Lint
Cover Artist: John Jude Palencar
Review by Gayle Surrette
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765317568
Date: 17 March 2009 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
John Burns finally met the girl of his dreams. Well, sort of, she's the girl he would have dreamed of if he'd known that she's be a bright, energetic, smart, witty, tattooed, mechanic. They hit it off immediately, but in the morning she disappeared and he could not find her anywhere. He began to doubt that he'd even met her, until an internet search found her obituary from three months ago.
As usual with de Lint's writing, he builds slowly. First there's the mystery: Who is the woman John met? Why did she disappear? Then, how could she have been there if she was dead? Our curiosity peaked and the hook firmly set, we're treated to some flashbacks to fill in information about the mysterious Grace and about John and his friends. Once we catch up to the opening, the story moves back and forth between what is happening to Grace and then to John.
There's a lot of folk lore, particularly centered on the beliefs of the Southwest regarding death, the afterlife, and the cultural rituals related to them. We learn a lot about customizing hot rods and the culture of, prejudices against, the art of tattoos. The background and setting are rich in detail. Even minor characters are fully formed with the weight of history and backstory.
But, the even more important for me, de Lint uses language as a paint brush. His words are chosen carefully not just for their meaning and ability to move the story onward, but also for their connotations and the subconscious resonances play your emotions as you read the story. There's more than just words on paper, there's the taste, feel, and texture of each word adding to the tone and emotional content to the story. It's hard to describe, if you haven't read anything by de Lint and you love language, myths, and folk lore, you'll find him well worth your time. If you have read his works you know that, with this new story, you're about to meet some very interesting people whose lives will touch your heart and your imagination.
You never close a story by de Lint, without taking some time to think about these people, their situations, and the what ifs. What if it was me? Would I act any different? His people are so real you believe that they could walk off the page or that you've met them on the streets of wherever you live. The situations they deal with can be mundane or fantastic but since it's so grounded in reality you have to think about it in terms of what if it happened to me or someone I loved?
It's been three years since his last major adult novel, and The Mystery of Grace was well worth waiting for. I just hope it's not another three years until his next novel.