American holiday celebrated on the last Monday in May to honor people who have died in U.S. wars. Started out after the American Civil War as Decoration Day, when people would decorate the graves of the dead soldiers from that war, and like Armistice Day, was later expanded to cover the memories of more people.

Traditional Memorial Day is May 30, but the Congressional designation is the last Monday in May each year. Few realize that Memorial Day is actually a day of National Mourning and flags should be displayed at half-staff until noon, when they should be raised to their full height. It is a day designated to commemorate soldiers killed in U.S. wars.

The tradition of decoration the graves of those who died in wars was started by the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the Union veterans organization that made honoring Civil War dead a civic duty for all citizens. New York was the first state to actually legalize the day, in 1873. The rest of the northern states followed, and by 1890 the day had been legalized by them all. May 30th was the day that Memorial Day was recognized, no matter what day of the week it fell on until the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 - 363), Memorial Day. This act changed the date that Memorial Day would be observed, so as to create a three day weekend. Some people feel that this act undermined the meaning of the day and contributed to the public nonchalance in observing the true meaning of the day.

Ok, now for the corny part. Please, during all the barbeques, parties and general hilarity of the three day weekend that has come to mark the start of summer, please just take a few moments and think about what Memorial Day really is all about. If you go to a parade, stand up and applaud when the Veterans walk by. Buy and wear a Buddy poppy, the small artificial flowers sold as a fund-raiser for disabled veterans. Talk to your kids about what the day is about. Don't glorify war, but give the veterans of wars the glory they deserve.....and earned...some of them with their very lives.

Memorial Day by Harry Shannon
Five Star Press, 2004
trade hardcover

For those of you who have read Shannon’s previous novels, Night of the Beast and Night of the Werewolf, it will come as no surprise that his latest novel crackles with the same brittle dialogue and muscular prose he’s been honing over the past few years. What might surprise you is that Memorial Day isn’t a horror novel — at least, not in the commercial/marketing sense.

Memorial Day is very much a noir mystery novel, and with only a few minor bumps along the way, Shannon makes the kind of smooth transition between genres that most writers can only dream about. Reading like a cross between Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show and Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister, the novel tells the story of psychologist/television celebrity Mick Callahan, who, as the novel opens, has hit rock bottom thanks to booze, drugs, women, and his own out of control ego. With nothing left and nowhere to go, he accepts a job hosting a radio talk show in his home town of Dry Wells, Nevada. One of the callers to whom he speaks one night is murdered, and Mick–who made his reputation on television partly by investigative reporting–takes it upon himself to track down the murderer.

Fairly straightforward, traditional mystery elements, yes, but what makes Memorial Day stand apart from the majority of first mystery novels is Shannon’s unflinching, lean, and unsentimental portrayal not only of Callahan, but of all the characters who populate Dry Wells. Not only is Callahan trying to get his life back on track, not only is he dealing with a truckload of guilt carried over from his previous life, not only does he make enemies out of seemingly most of Dry Wells’ population, but he’s also dealing with memories of his own abusive childhood that are being brought to the surface as his investigation uncovers tawdry secret after tawdry secret.

These are a lot of character elements to deal with in a novel; that Shannon not only grapples with these elements but resolves them — and does so in a tight 266 pages — but he also draws fully three-dimensional characterizations for everyone in Dry Wells that Callahan comes into contact with. No easy feat, and one cannot help but applaud Shannon’s craftsmanship.

Which is not to say that everything is on solid ground; there are times when a line of dialogue comes off as self-consciously noir-ish ("You might as well paint a target on your forehead", "This town’s got a lot of dirty little secrets", "You move, you die" etc.), one very important clue is delivered in too-obvious manner, and in the final third of novel, Callahan suffers one brutal beating after another, only to quickly recover and come back for more.

But these are, in the end, minor quibbles that do not adversely affect the overall strength and readability of Memorial Day; at best, they reduce a **** novel to ***1/2.

With Memorial Day, Shannon has made a strong and memorable mystery debut. Mick Callahan has the makings of a fascinating series character in the traditional of Ed Gorman’s Sam McCain or Andrew Vachss’ Burke. Personally, I think it’s high time we had a new series character like Callahan, and a new mystery writer as skillful as Shannon. Even if mystery is not your usual cup of tea, I still highly recommend Memorial Day.

Me*mo"ri*al Day.

A day, May 30, appointed for commemorating, by decorating their graves with flowers, by patriotic exercises, etc., the dead soldiers and sailors who served the Civil War (1861-65) in the United States; Decoration Day. It is a legal holiday in most of the States. In the Southern States, the Confederate Memorial Day is: May 30 in Virginia; April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in North Carolina and South Carolina; the second Friday in May in Tennessee; June 3 in Louisiana. [U. S.]

 

© Webster 1913

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