- Before He Finds Her (2015)
- One Last Good Time (2012) short stories
- The Three Day Affair (Sept., 2012) novel
- The Art and Craft of Fiction (2012) nonfiction
Michael Kardos grew up on the Jersey Shore. He attended Princeton University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in music in 1992. He played drums professionally for eight years before earning his M.F. A. in fiction at Ohio State University in 2000 and a Ph.D. from the University of Missouri in 2003. He is currently associate professor in the English Department and co-director of the Creative Writing Program at Mississippi State University in Starkville. In addition to his fiction, Kardos has written a textbook entitled The Art and Craft of Fiction.
One Last Good Time, Kardos’s collection of short stories, won the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for fiction in 2012 and his short story Animals appears in the 2015 Pushcart Prize Edition. His first novel, The Three-Day Affair, was named a”best book of the year” by Esquire magazine in 2012 and Publisher’s Weekly and a Best Crime Fiction Book of the Year by the Miami Herald. His second novel, Before He Finds Her, was released in February of 2015 and is also a thriller. The Library Journal has named him one of the ten Big Breakout Authors of 2015.
He is married to poet Catherine Pierce. They have two children and live in Starkville, Mississippi.
In 1991, a long-haul truck driver named Ramsey Miller throws an end-of-the world block party in Silver Bay, New Jersey, and then murders his wife and 3-year-old daughter. That’s the set-up in Michael Kardos’ terrific second novel, “Before He Finds Her,” (The Mysterious Press, 2015) a white-knuckle thriller that burns with urgency.
There’s more to the story, of course. We know early on that the daughter, Meg, wasn’t killed — she was, in fact, entered into a protection program with her Uncle Wayne and Aunt Kendra and hidden away in a small West Virginia town, where she’s led a sheltered life devoid of basic freedoms, taught to always watch over her shoulder for her father, who escaped and has been on the run for 15 years.
Meg — her name changed to Melanie Denison — is 17 now, almost 18, taking classes at a local community college and pregnant from a relationship with her secret boyfriend. The life she’s been leading begins to unravel and she’s forced to confront her past. She heads to Silver Bay in pursuit of her father, aiming to find him before he finds her.
Meanwhile, Kardos launches us back in time and we see Ramsey in the three days leading up to the terrible crime. He’s unhinged, buying into a scientific vision of doomsday sold to him by a fellow trucker and convinced that his wife is cheating on him with a local weatherman, but is he capable of killing her and trying to kill their daughter?
This question and many others will force you to brew a midnight pot of coffee, flipping pages feverishly until dawn. But this isn’t a slick whodunit in the tired sense. Before He Finds Her is a master class in pacing and balancing multiple viewpoints, and it’s full of raw tension. Even when the story is simmering, it feels like it’s buzzing at a full-on boil.
Meg/Melanie and Ramsey are deft and well-drawn characters. We are caught up in their lives and predicaments, desperate to know everything. And our sympathies get jolted around as the layers of the story are peeled back.
The book certainly has elements that we’ve seen before in thrillers — a crime in the past that haunts the present, poin tof- view and time shifts that serve to build anticipation — but Kardos makes them new. To his great credit, both Meg/Melanie and Ramsey (as well as an array of compelling minor characters) are flawed and human and always interesting to be with. The fear is that victim and villain will be stale and one-dimensional, as they so often are in blander works.
What drives the engine here is not merely the plot but the focus on how these characters exist in the world — the way they’re marked by common fears and devotions, the way they yearn for love and happiness, the way they want to avoid making the same mistakes over and over.
Midway through, Ramsey remembers a beloved black oak from his childhood, one that he’d escape to when his parents were fighting. Cut down before its time, he studies the sawdusty stump, and thinks: “(So) many rings, so much survival.”
Ultimately, “Before He Finds Her” is about resiliency in the face of great odds, about fighting through when everything seems distorted, about making sense of what remains, about how small our stories are amidst the vastness of the stars. It’s a book that pulses with energy and truth, one that will stay with me for a long time.
Note: William Boyle is the author of Gravesend and the forthcoming story collection Death Don’t Have No Mercy. He’s from Brooklyn, New York, and lives in Oxford, Mississippi.
- Michael Kardos’s Website
- Interview with Michael on Street Talk (2012)
- Mississippi State University faculty page for Kardos
- Our People Profile: Michael Kardos on Mississippi State web page.
- Download reading guides for Kardos’s two novels here.