The Morning News

The Morning News Tournament of Books, sponsored by Powell’s Books, is an annual battle royale amongst the top novels in “literary fiction” published throughout the year. Read more about this year’s tournament »

» Buy the Books at «
» Meet This Year’s Judges «
» Check the Bloggers’ Office Pool «
» Relive the Action: 2006, 2005 «
» Contact the Tournament Staff «

Powell's Books

The 2007 Tournament of Books is over. To view this year's Tournament, go here.


March 14, 2007

Arthur and George


One Good Turn


When I heard I’d drawn Arthur and George in my Tournament bracket, I was pretty excited—a friend had been urging me to read it for months. So I read it first, and as predicted, I liked it a lot. The journalist in me loved the facts in this retelling of the true story of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work to clear a stranger of a crime. The detailed drawings of the two main characters—particularly in the first half—made the book a pleasure to read, and the tales of Sir Arthur’s odd fascination with the spirit world were a neat bonus.

But then I read One Good Turn. The backdrop is Edinburgh during a theater festival, when a fender-bender turns into a beating, a woman’s body washes up on a barren beach, and a supposedly faithful husband has a heart attack while pleasuring his mistress. A dozen or so main characters roam around the city, getting into fights, falling in love, and trying to solve the crime. This was a real mystery.

In Arthur and George, it was clear from the beginning that the mystery would be solved and that the solution wasn’t the sort that could be sussed out by a careful reader. That takes away much of the fun. The weakness is especially apparent in the final third of the book, when the plot seems to slow down and the story disintegrates into a legal tug of war over the fate of George Edalji. It wouldn’t have been so dry had Sir Arthur’s skills been more in doubt; the knowledge that eventually he would tap the correct villain and clear Mr. Edalji’s name took away some of my interest as I neared the end.

Conversely, One Good Turn has a slow start—it’s never completely obvious which of the many characters is the main crime-solver—but the twists and turns of the final chapters (indeed, the final lines) kept me up late, anxious to read just one more chapter rather than go to bed and leave the mystery unsolved. And when I was finished, I was pleased to be able to say that I’d had my suspicions about the character eventually pegged for the crime. Early on I’d thought, Now, that person is acting pretty funny for the circumstances. It is possible for a careful reader to solve the crime in this book, and for this sleuth, that makes a big difference.

If paired with a comparable historical rival, Arthur and George would likely have come away the winner. But in a mystery-to-mystery face-off, One Good Turn takes the prize. Arthur and George tells a good story, but One Good Turn is the type of suspenseful tale Sherlock Holmes would love.

• Today’s WINNER •

One Good Turn

• About the Judge •

TMN Managing Editor Kate Schlegel is a native of Columbus, Ohio, and a copy editor by training, though these days she works as an assistant news editor for the web site of the Wall Street Journal. She lives in the neighborhood sometimes known as Brooklyn’s best-kept secret—if you ask nicely, maybe she’ll tell you where exactly that is. Her current favorite author is Eudora Welty, though the last book she finished was Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

• From the Booth •

There couldn’t be a more idiotic reason to pick up a book—it would be like reading Wilmer Valderrama’s novels because you so enjoyed Ashton Kutcher’s. Kevin John One Good Turn is a sequel to Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories, which to my mind puts her at a distinct disadvantage in this face-off.
» Read Kevin Guilfoile & John Warner’s commentary on the match «

• The Peanut Gallery •

Do you agree with the outcome of this match?

absolutely   no way

The Standings


• Round One •

Half of a Yellow Sun v. Absurdistan
judged by Brady Udall

The Echo Maker v. The Emperor’s Children
judged by Marcus Sakey

Firmin v. Brookland
judged by Sarah Hepola

The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo v. The Road
judged by Maria Schneider

Arthur and George v. One Good Turn
judged by Kate Schlegel

The Lay of the Land v. English, August
judged by Colin Meloy

Alentejo Blue v. Apex Hides the Hurt
judged by Dan Chaon

Against the Day v. Pride of Baghdad
judged by Anthony Doerr

• Round Two •

Half of a Yellow Sun v. The Emperor’s Children
judged by Jessa Crispin

Firmin v. The Road
judged by Mark Sarvas

One Good Turn v. The Lay of the Land
judged by Maud Newton

Alentejo Blue v. Against the Day
judged by Sam Lipsyte


Half of a Yellow Sun v. The Road
judged by Elizabeth Gaffney

One Good Turn v. Against the Day
judged by Sasha Frere-Jones


The Road v. Against the Day
judged by Andrew Womack

One Good Turn v. Absurdistan
judged by Rosecrans Baldwin


The Road v. Absurdistan
All Judges + Jessica Francis Kane