Michael Gavin is a hometown football star, a national military hero and a pillar of the community. But when he loses his life to cancer at the age of 39, Michael leaves behind an unexpected and unconventional last request. Despite having a loving family and a town full of friends, he wants a stranger to deliver his eulogy. That stranger is local newspaper reporter Wes Watkins. A newcomer to Talking Creek, Wes sees his job at the rural newspaper as a quick step on the ladder to big-city journalism. Wes has never known or met Michael and has no idea why this local champion left him with such a significant task…until Wes reads the letter.
Michael knows he is dying. He has given the disease his best shot and tried to stay in the game for his wife and little daughter as well as for the kids who come to his foster care retreat. Eventually, however, the time comes to accept the inevitable. And with that acceptance comes a resolve to make sure he doesn’t go out like some fairy tale prince. He knows his family and friends will laud his accomplishments and present a rose-colored picture of his life. The only way to get a eulogy that paints a true picture is from a stranger, and Michael knows just the guy. With a few short months to live, he writes a letter to Wes that will not be delivered until the day he dies:
“I don’t want this town going up to the pulpit and spitting out pleasantries about my life. That seems standard practice, like somehow when you croak you all of a sudden become an unblemished person. Well, as you’ll find out, I was anything but. I want you to have an open door to the people in my life, the good and the bad, the successes and the mistakes. If my life was worth what I hope it was, then it will probably show as much through the people I hurt as the people I loved. They were often the same folks.”
With the letter in his hands, a list of people to contact and a million questions banging around in his head, Wes begins the toughest assignment of his career: finding the truth behind Talking Creek’s golden boy. At first, he is inundated with nothing but accolades for Michael: his amazing football skills, his military leadership, the incredible act of bravery that led to his Purple Heart and Medal of Honor, and the foster care retreat he owned and managed with his wife. But slowly, tidbits of truths and secrets begin to surface. Certain people in the community are not happy with these revelations or Wes’s attempts at probing deeper. Even his editor tries to create a few blockades, but Wes pushes on.
During his investigation, certain truths about Wes’s own life begin to surface. His estranged father has been sending him letters for years, but Wes wants nothing to do with that washed-up alcoholic who ran out on him and his mom. He discovers that Michael’s real father wasn’t any better, but he died when Michael was young. Upon hearing the rest of that story, Wes reaches the epicenter of what made Michael tick and discovers an alarming revelation about why Michael really chose him to give the eulogy.
Michael’s letter leads Wes from place to place and person to person. Finally, the trail leads to a Bible hidden in a desk drawer, bookmarked to Ephesians 2:8-9. Wes knows he now has everything he needs to fulfill Michael’s last request --- and possibly make some changes in his own life as well.
HERO’S TRIBUTE is Graham Garrison’s debut novel, but no doubt there are more on the horizon. He has demonstrated an ability to write a powerful story and bring characters to life while weaving in enough hooks to keep the reader intrigued. Plot twists, fine imagery and believable dialogue combine to make this a terrific read that you’ll want to share with friends and family.
Reviewed by Susan Miura on September 21, 2009