“Spare your soul,” he ranted, “and turn your eyes from greed.…”
The tattoos on his arms still reading “Live by the Sword” and “Die by the Sword,” Aramis Black is ready for a fresh start. Determined to set aside his violent tendencies, he opens an espresso shop in Nashville and begins to put his childhood memories behind him. The past isn’t finished with him, though. One ordinary day at the shop, a man is shot before his eyes, speaking dying words to Aramis that are all too familiar.
Aramis realizes that his path to freedom will demand forgiveness–forgiveness from God and forgiveness of others. Along the way, he must uncover the conspiracy behind a centuries-old mystery and the shocking truth of his mother’s death. The question remains: Will Aramis be able to conquer his past, or will evil get the best of him?
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
If she had lived, I know she would be ashamed of me. I’m trying to change that.
My mother adored her morning coffee. I imagine her in my espresso shop, quiet, unimposing, lifting her drink and winking at me the way she did when I was a little kid in Oregon. A few months back I started the place with her in mind. She would love the mahogany counters, the polished brass rails and gleaming Italian machinery, the rich aroma.
Black’s—that’s what I call my shop, in honor of the family name. Mom was always busy, they tell me. A dutiful housewife with a set jaw and silky, raven hair twisted back in a bun. She bore secrets no one should have to carry alone, and when at last she did seek support, she found only hostility and greed and a cup of conspiracy that spilled over into the lives of her family.
Dianne Lewis Black. Despite her weariness, her eyes sparkled. That much I remember and hold on to.
She’d still be with us if not for Uncle Wyatt’s mistake, and I still hate the carelessness that stole her life away. I was six when she died. I watched her fall, a stone’s throw away. For two decades, that one moment held me in its grip. I wallowed in its rage through my young adult years, courting violence and a nasty drug habit. I tattooed my cynicism onto my forearms.
Live by the Sword on one. Die by the Sword on the other. Despite all this, I’ve never stopped believing that we are created with the ability to soar. But then circumstances slash at us and pluck our feathers, and we get entangled in our sins. We fight to get free. We struggle, flapping our wings, beating at the air. Exhaustion leaves most of us numb.
Thirteen months ago I decided to break away. I packed a U-Haul and left Portland to live with my brother in Nashville, Tennessee—a place to start over, start clean. A safer world, I thought. This morning proved me wrong. Sitting here at my desk, putting it on paper, I hope to gain a glimmer of understanding. This is my way of processing, I guess. Not that it’ll change things. My shop is in shambles, and a fellow human being is dead.
Two and a half hours before the shooting at Black’s, I was barely out of bed and shaking off my nightmares. I stumbled from the bathroom toward the kitchen, feeling cheated of sleep, quiet, and a general sense of sanity. My brother’s guitar strumming in the living room did little to improve my mood. I wouldn’t think of asking him to stop, though. Music is Johnny Ray’s love, his life, his very breath, wrapped up in a three-minute, three-chord, country music ditty. The man has his dreams, and with a name like Johnny Ray Black, how can he fail? I’d do anything to make it happen for him. “Sounds good,” I said, pausing in the doorway. His eyes jerked up. “Aramis? Don’t scare me like that.”
“I thought you were long gone, kid.”
“Should’ve been. I’m running late.”
Cross-legged in his Tabasco boxers, surrounded by sheet music and scribbled notes, Johnny Ray shifted his guitar and tucked a section of yellowed newspaper under his knee. “Guess you better get movin’.Listen, grab yourself a muffin on the way out. Should be one left on the table.”
“Another of your bran concoctions?”
“You got it. All natural, from scratch, and still warm.”
“Ahh. That explains the smell.”
I pointed at his folded edition of the Nashville Scene, a weekly rag full of local news, events, and divergent viewpoints. “You hiding something from me, Johnny?”
“We’ll talk later.”
“I know. You’re looking to get me tickets to the U2 concert, aren’t you?”
“Don’t go gettin’ your hopes up.”
My brother pressed his knee down on the paper and shifted his attention back to his guitar, golden brown hair falling over his shoulders, bronzed skin glowing—evidence of his weekly tanning bed routine.
He believes “you’ve gotta look the part, gotta be video friendly,” blaming his music aspirations for his obsession with health and appearance. Truth is, he’s always envied the fact that I got Mom’s Mediterranean coloring. I joke with him that he got the talent and I got the looks.
“How can you sit like that?” I asked. “Doesn’t your butt get numb?”
“As a rock.”
I slipped into the kitchen, scowled at the lone muffin, then rummaged in the cupboard. “Hey, what happened to my Froot Loops?”
“You finished them yesterday,” my brother called back.
“I did not.”
“You did too.”
“Well, it wasn’t me,” he said. “I wouldn’t touch the stuff, and you know it.”
“Fruit, Johnny. It’s good for you.”
Knowing that I lack any culinary skills, Johnny Ray gets a chunk of my change each month and does our grocery shopping and cooking; Froot Loops and Dr Pepper are his two concessions to my dietary needs. He asked, “What would you do without me, little brother?”
“Spoil myself rotten.”
“Honestly, I worry about you. You can’t survive on caffeine forever.”
“It’s better than the stuff I used to do. Cheaper too.”
“And legal, Aramis. I’ll give you that.”
I went to the table, hefted the muffin, and took a bite. Yum, yum. Lots of fiber.
“Still, there’s something not right,” my brother said as I returned to the living room. “You’ve stayed clean for a year now—which is a good thing, don’t get me wrong—but I can see it in your eyes. You’re still on edge.”
“On edge?” I snorted. “I’m dog-tired. Drop it, okay?”
“You’ve always got a reason to avoid the issue.”
“Uncle Wyatt. And the way Mom died.”
“What? Where did that come from? It was over twenty freakin’ years ago. Why keep dredging up the past?”
“See now, that’s your pain talking.”
“Dude.” I pulled on my jacket. “I know you’re trying to help me, but it’s too early in the morning for psychoanalysis. I have to get to work.” I took another bite.
“It’s come full circle—that’s all I’m trying to tell you.”
“Sure. If you say so.” With my mouth full, my words were pebbles rolling in wet gravel.
“I’m not sure you’re ready for it.”
“Gotta go. My customers will be lining up soon.”
“I’m probably gonna regret this, but…Aramis, does this look familiar?” My brother’s question brought me to a halt. In his hand, waved into view from the folded newspaper, he held a silk cloth with Mom’s initials embroidered on it: DLB. Hours after my mother’s death, after the police had come and gone, I’d realized this memento was missing. She’d given it to me in confidence, saying that it held secrets, and then someone had stolen it away. I’d always wondered if the thief had known its significance. He must have. “Is that…?” I took the cloth from my brother, cradling the soft material. I felt like a boy again. Six years old. Choked with emotion.
“It’s Mom’s handkerchief.”
“I found it last night.” Johnny Ray gestured toward the front door. “On the steps, in a FedEx envelope.”
Reading Group Guide
1. As a child, Aramis saw his mother murdered. How has this impacted his life and his relationships? In what ways did you empathize with his character?
2. For years, Aramis lived a rough life on the streets. How does the story show this? What causes him to change his ways and move in with his brother? Have you had a similar moment when "the lights came on," so to speak?
3. Johnny Ray is a concerned older brother. What did you like about his character? What things made him flawed?
4. When Aramis tries to move past the death in his shop, how does he lean on Brianne? On Samantha? When his immaturity shows, did it frustrate you, or did you have sympathy for him?
5. Were you familiar with the historical mystery of Meriwether Lewis' death? Did the story give you new information? Did it change your perspective at all?
6. Aramis finds old ways rising to the surface, specifically in confrontations with his uncle and father. What did you think of his slowly changing relationship with his father? Do you have similar tension with family members?
7. Despite Aramis' rough edges, he also shows a soft side. In what ways did you see this? How did it make you feel toward his character?
8. When Aramis agrees to have dinner with Brianne, did you suspect the trouble they would get into? What did you think of their resulting bond? Have you faced situations that yoked you in an unhealthy relationship?
9. Did you think Detective Meade's character was he too standoffish? How did the interaction between him and Aramis change? Were there ways he taught Aramis by example?
10. Did the final revelation on the Natchez Trace surprise you? In what ways was if foreshadowed? How did it tie into earlier warnings against greed?
11. Aramis decides to hide a clue for his brother--and readers--to find. Did you figure it out? What did you think of his decision to leave it alone?
12. Was the image of the hawk effective for you emotionally? Spiritually? Did the story encourage you in your own "fight to get free"? In what ways did you see Aramis' desire to "get the best of evil by doing good"?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I read this book some time ago, and I recently read it again. It's very well written, creative, and original. I love Eric's work, and I would highly recommend this book.
I was almost put off by the title of this book (The Best of Evil, Eric Wilson) but decided to give it a try anyway. It was an enjoyable read. Aramis Black moved to Nashville to start a new life, far away from the drug culture and the radical group with which he was involved in the northwest. Now he's living with his brother Johnny Ray Black, an aspiring musician and health food afficionado. Aramis is operating a espresso shop, named Black's, in honor of his mother, Dianne Lewis Black. When he was six years old, she was murdered in front of him and even now, twenty years later, she is never far from his thoughts. He blames his uncle Wyatt for not preventing the tragedy. When a man is murdered in Aramis' shop, things start to happen, odd things. His mother's handkerchief, entrusted to him just before her murder but then stolen, turns up briefly and disappears again. Clues start hinting at a relationship between Aramis and the famed explorer Meriwether Lewis. Suddenly a reality TV show crew shows up with an invitation to try out for their new show, The Best of Evil, in which someone is given the opportunity to 'get the best of evil' by repaying another with good instead. Aramis summarizes his constant struggle with this: 'Evil, I believe, is a choice. We embrace or reject it. It comes at us in insidious guises, and we make decisions that push it back or let it edge closer. It never tires and never sleeps it's there every day--crouching on our doorsteps, hoping for a cozy place to shack up. After a while, it seems easier to give in. Just a little.' Like each of us, Aramis faces daily choices to embrace or reject evil. Each seemingly small decision moves his life along the path to clarifying his past and directing his future.
With The Best of Evil, Eric Wilson continues to put out exciting, challenging and captivating fiction. This time instead of a supernatural thriller, it's a real-life mystery! The story has been reviewed below many times and is based in Nashville and told in first-person narrative from the eyes and mind of Aramis Black. Someone was gunned down in his coffee shop and his past has apparently caught up with him in his new life. Then Eric takes us on a ride and mixes in his patented mix of history to keep you on the edge of your seat to the last page. This is another amazing book! There are two huge strong points to this book. The first-person narrative is incredible! I wasn't sure how it would read, but the description and characterization that comes from the perspective of Aramis Black is truly astounding. I felt drawn into the story from his perspective. I felt his pain, I had compassion on him in his misery and I was thrilled when he was thrilled. Also the action felt more real as well. Truly Wilson shines with this style! The second giant strength of this novel is the characters themselves. One thing that Wilson continues to display is an excellent proficiency for making characters real. This book continues that trend and may be his best yet. All the characters in the story feel deep and well-developed even if they don't get a whole lot of script time. Real characters mean real people relate to them and are affected by the message of the book. Of course, at the end Wilson throws in a huge twist which is always satisfying as you read a suspenseful thriller of a mystery. Check out The Best of Evil and get ready to burn that candle at both ends as you eat up the prose as quick as you can!
Some months ago I learned of Eric Wilson and his novels through another writer whose work I enjoy. I read one of Eric books and knew that I'd found a new favorite author. Since then I've had the pleasure of getting to know Eric through email when I contacted him letting him know how much I'd enjoyed that read. He only had one other book out at the time. Imagine my joy when he told me another one was releasing this year. Over time I learned more about this upcoming novel and became very interested. Last month this novel was released and The Best of Evil didn't disappoint. When I first learned it was written in first person, I have to admit, was a bit concerned. See, I don't like to read those kinds of books. Don't like to play those kinds of video games either. Strange seeing as how reviews like this are written in that very mode. Preferences aside, when you open The Best of Evil to the first page you become completely enveloped in the world of protagonist Aramis Black. Not your typical queaky clean sort, from an early age Aramis went on a downward spiral after seeing his mother murdered. He's carried a lot of baggage since then. One day he's almost killed himself and takes his survival of the incident as indication God is giving him a second chance. He moves to Nashville TN to live with his brother who wants to be a country star. He opens a coffee shop and names it Black's. His deceased mother had loved coffee. Everything's fine. Aramis seems to have out run his demons till one day a man is murdered at Black's and speaks the same dying words of Aramis's mother so long ago. This--along with a crazy idea from his brother--sets him on a course of action to learn the truth about his mother's death. And just how does it relate to the late Meriweather Lewis of the famed Lewis & Clark of American History? As my title to this review says, this novel is the best of Eric. Each novel he writes shows growth. His characters are more real and believeable then ever. His prose is as tight as a guitar string. No fluff at all. His weaving in of history--a staple of Eric's work--never takes you out of the story at hand. And for me, it actually felt more important to the story this time. Without the background of Meriweather Lewis, I don't believe you'd have the same novel. Eric weaves so many elements in this story, a lesser writer would have spun the story out of control. Not Eric. He takes such elements as murder, revenge, a classic novel read and loved by millions, a reality TV show, a family momento, country music and so much more and throws them in a pot, stirring them till a well rounded story comes out. The book is full of human emotion that you can feel. I could especially relate to Black's estrangement from a couple of family members. As well as the love/hate relationship of siblings and the awkwardness of new love. Even the emotion of having lost a mother. Though mine was not murdered, my mom passed just two years ago. I could feel Black's pain from his loss in many passages. The Best of Evil is, in deed, the best of Eric Wilson. I'm already anticipating the next in the Aramis Black series due out next year. For now, buy The Best of Evil. Read it slowly and savor it. Read it to friends so they can slow you down with questions. With any luck this tactic will take you so long the second book will be out and you won't have near the wait I do. What's that release date again, Eric?
Eric Wilson serves up his finest novel yet, with a fresh new style and genuine characters. This is narrated in first person by Aramis Black, a tough appearing individual with a troubled childhood that continues to haunt him into adulthood. His elder brother and roommate, Johnny Ray Black, has two objectives in this narrative: to make it on the Nashville music scene and to help his brother deal with a lingering past. A past that predates the horrific murder of his mother that Aramis witnessed as a child, delving into the 1809 mysterious death of the prominent explorer/politician Meriwether Lewis. Eric Wilson blooms in this style with vivid imagery, pulling the reader beyond the calloused exterior of his principal character, into the mêlées and affections of the heart. This story remains intriguing throughout, replete with stimulating yet sensible action (no guns magically appear when needed). However, the most poignant action involves the struggles transpiring within to: forgive, grant grace, let go, and get the best of evil.
When he was six years old living in the northwest, he watched his mother die from a fall that he attributed to his Uncle Wyatt. He lived a violent on the streets lifestyle until he was almost assassinated by a former gang associate. During that moment when a gun was pointed at his head, he calmly found God. Now over two decades since his mom¿s death, Aramis Black lives with his older brother guitar playing Johnny Ray in Nashville and owns and operates a coffee shop.---------------- On the day he is to hire a new employee, a man is murdered in his shop. The victim Darrell Mitchell tells Aramis to ¿turn your eyes from greed¿. Frighteningly, this was his mom¿s last words to Aramis. Johnny Ray takes Aramis on a drive to the grave of Meriwether Lewis and tells his sibling a strange tale that they are half brothers. Furthermore he insists that Aramis is a descendent of the famous explorer, who Johnny Ray believes was killed by avaricious General Wilkinson and that Aramis¿ mother was also murdered because of that early nineteenth century deadly rivalry. He could be next as he has the proof that could devastate the influential affluent descendents of Wilkinson though Aramis has no idea what his brother is talking about.----------------- Though the premise of tying the murder of Aramis¿ mother to the possible homicide of Lewis seems like fantasy, Eric Wilson makes it feel plausible though still some doubters would insist that it is only a slight possibility but all will agree this is a clever solid amateur sleuth tale. The story line is fast-paced from the first murder at the lead character¿s espresso café and never slows down until the stirring climax. Readers also receive fascinating tidbits about Lewis after his adventure with Clark these factoids are cleverly intertwined into the conspiracy. Believe it or not, THE BEST OF EVIL is a terrific thriller.------------- Harriet Klausner