Doug Worgul at The Buechner Institute


Here's what 56 Amazon reviewers have to say about
(Honest reviews. None of them paid!)

A Rich Read!
A friend sent me the book: the chances of me picking off the shelf for myself a book whose central feature is a Kansas City barbecue joint owned by a baseball has-been was zero to none. I'm a mostly-vegetarian with a significant aversion to professional sports. I dove in because I trust the friend who sent it and within a few paragraphs I was hooked on Doug Worgul's prose. This masterpiece is thickly layered with complex characters, whose lives have come to intersect at LaVerne's Genuine BBQ and City Grocery. The cuisine peculiar to the U.S. south provides the backdrop for a multi-layered and richly flavoured menu of race and family, religion's doubts and certainties, love and loyalty, betrayal and revenge. This book elicited not just smiles but guffaws, not just wet eyes but sobs as I sat on the dock with the sun going down on a Muskoka lake. Do yourself a favour: buy this book. Buy one for family and friends (my Canadian doctor is a Kansan and can expect a copy at our next visit) and write a review. And if Doug Worgul is listening: don't stop. Whatever you do, don't stop. I'm waiting.
— Lee McKenna, Toronto

A remarkable novel of universal themes
I am a serious and avid reader, and an addicted downloader of books to my Kindle. I have never, however, written an Amazon customer review. I feel compelled to do so with Doug Worgul's THIN BLUE SMOKE.

It is a lovely and remarkable novel. The theme and pace reminded me of Kent Haruf's classic PLAINSONG and of Marilynne Robinson's novels. The writing style put me in mind of both of them, with a dash of circa 1975-1982 Bruce Springsteen.

The characters are people you want to spend your time with. The sense of place - Kansas City, a city I know well - is palpable and true, but the themes are profound and universal. I wept when I finished this book; the last time I had that reaction to any book was Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD which shares some themes with THIN BLUE SMOKE - themes of perseverance, redemption and love. At the same time, the book is, for lack of a better word, fun - leavened with genuine humor, both in Worgul's exposition and in the dialogue of his characters.

This is the best novel I have read this year. I commend to those who love a good, thought-provoking read.  

— Matthew, Bethesda, Maryland 

Baseball, hope, and BBQ
Loved this book!

Powerfully told story of redemption and hope against a beautifully painted backdrop of baseball and mouth watering BBQ! I couldn't put this one down!

There have been very few books in the last 10 years that have held my interest as closely as Thin Blue Smoke! I envy those who are opening it up for the first time!

— mikeobrianvoiceovers  

Feels like Wendell Berry but urban and modern
I always find it hard to write reviews of fiction books I really like. I never want to give away too much of the plot. And I usually fall back to talking about how beautiful the language is or how engaging the plot.

In some ways what want is to ask you to just trust me and go ahead and read the book.

But asking you to trust me is not good enough. Thin Blue Smoke is not an action packed story. It is a story that you make your way through. At some point I felt like it might never end. And then I hoped it wouldn't ever end.

The connecting tissue of the book is Smoke Meat. A small BBQ joint in Kansas City. The owner is a former baseball player. His assistant AB is his late son's best friend. Their regular customers include an elderly blues singer, an alcoholic Episcopal priest and professor, a wealthy developer, cops, journalists and more.

This books jumps all over time, from character to character revealing more and more about the common human nature and need of all people. There are lots of mistakes and sins that have brought everyone to where they are right now. But there is also a God that is present, even in tragedy.

This is a book about the journey toward redemption. The conclusion is a bit abrupt and not completely satisfying, but the point of the book is not the conclusion. The point of the story is the journey.

This is not a standard fare Christian novel. It clearly is a Christian novel. God is present here. Thin Blue Smoke presents characters as real people. They drink, have sex, curse, kill, cry and love. This is the type of Christian novel that changes people's perceptions of Christian novels. Christian novels can be more than thinly veiled evangelism or Amish romance. Christian novels can present true life, the way that we actually live it, not just the idealized way that we wish we could.
— Adam "Book blogger at" Marietta, GA  

Add to the modern canon on Faith, Redemption and Community
There is a shelf in my mind on which sit several classics that serve as windows into the soul of something deeper and truer than many traditional spiritually themed books. This collection, a sort of new canon for the post-modern Christian longing for a richer worldview includes, for me, all the works of Frederick Buechner, David James Duncan, the music of Bono and U2, the musical Children of Eden, Essays by Henri Nouwen, the Rocking Banjo Riffs of Mumford and Sons and now Thin Blue Smoke by Doug Worgul.

This book chronicles the comings and goings of a group of people whose lives intersect at barbecue joint in Kansas City run by a stoic and wizened LaVerne Williams. Through the lives of its various characters, the book takes on; race relations, the state of barbecue across America, redemption, free will's role in fate and destiny, and the true spirit of love as shown in genuine communities of openness, intimacy and vulnerability between people of different backgrounds.

This book is surprisingly comedic as it explores sometimes tragic themes and events. Like the best fairy tales of yore, it tells a story of American life through love that speaks to a truer reality than most of us actually know but, at our most honest, deeply yearn for.
— Jacob VandeMoortel, Chicago  

Thin Blue Smoke
Authentic is the word that comes to mind when describing this book. The characters, the plot—nothing forced here. I love the themes the book explores and the way Worgul weaves his various characters' lives together. Oh, and that ending! I won't say anything to give it away, but the ending stayed with me for a long time. Writing that is honest touches me and that's what this book did. Can't wait to see what will come next from this talented author.
— Lisa R. Mikitarian, Shenandoah Valley 

One of my favorites in 2012
In the same way Friday Night Lights was about much more than just high school football in Texas, so is Thin Blue Smoke about much more than just a BBQ joint in Kansas City.

This is a story of love, redemption, grace, joy, sadness, humor, and healing. But this is also a compelling character study into the lives of some diverse people who happen to share a common appreciation for quality smoked meat.

Normally, I don't give much thought to the people I encounter in a restaurant - staff or fellow patrons alike. But this wonderful book may change that as I remember they each have life stories that have made them into the people they are in front of me.

At times I laughed out loud reading this book. Other times, I wept openly. What more could you ask of a novel?

—  Ivan 

Grace - with a side of ribs and a bourbon, neat
I came upon this book a couple of years ago when I saw it advertised at Oklahoma Joe's, the iconic Kansas City barbecue joint. At the time that I decided to seek it out and read it, the mere fact that it was set in my hometown and involved barbecue and baseball was enough for me to give it a shot. But I soon found it to be much more than a novelty paperback being hawked to the local crowd.

Worgul's novel is a character study that taps into many universal themes. Kansas City and its barbecue culture offers an exquisite backdrop that is not to be missed, but the true attraction here is the exploration of the characters and their experiences. This book doesn't follow a typical chronological storyline, but rather unfolds over decades and meanders between them seamlessly. It's a work to lose yourself in, to be sure, but at the same time there is so much to find.

It is also a book full of theology, and full of grace. But this is no formulaic "Christian novel". I imagine you'd never find this on the shelves of a Christian bookstore, due to the reality it portrays, and that is to the great shame of the Christian publishing industry. Because I would say that I have never come across a novel that so accurately portrays Jesus' Gospel as applied to real life.

Along the way, there are thought-provoking explorations of race relations, addictions, good food, good booze, and, as the jacket says, the language of rabbits. Humorous, sad at times, but altogether redeeming.

I gravitate primarily to nonfiction, but I recommend this novel wholeheartedly. Excellent work from Doug Worgul, leaving me hungry for his future literary offerings (and another Oklahoma Joe's Z-Man).
— KCRoyalsFan 

Great read!
I thoroughly enjoyed Thin Blue Smoke. The characters were very real and the stories touching. I would highly recommend this book.
— Grin48 

Theology, Humanity, and Food
I highly recommend this book. Most chapters have an O. Henry feel to them, tightly constructed. Yet the connections of the overarching story and character development is impressive. Worgul takes on fairly weighty topics (death, fate, providence, love, friendship, salvation) that come alive through beautiful characters. This book is worth your time.
Benjamin D. Alexander, Pittsboro, North Carolina

An Oak-Smoked Masterpiece
Finally, a believable and well crafted novel about moody, doubt stricken Christian characters on the backside of their glory days trying to make sense of their lot in life, while inadvertently transforming the hopeless causes around them with slow, oak-wood smoked love. A return to, and celebration of the craftsmanship of powerfully arranged words, Doug Worgul steps out of well-worn chronological narrative and masterfully takes the reader back and forth in time while weaving a rich tapestry of highly textured images, smells, and flavors of southern barbeque with earthy, real-life, foul-mouthed, impulsive, gritty characters who somehow, despite their mistakes and failures (or perhaps because of their mistakes and failures) are able to effect true community in a small, locally owned Kansas City restaurant.
—Charlie Cliffe, Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia 

Simple and Brilliant
One of the best books I have read in a long time. Worgul has written a story of suffering and redemption, isolation and community, faith and doubt. His use of baseball, bar-b-que, all set in Kansas City is magical. Immediately after finishing, I wanted to start again. This book recalls Wendell Berry's 'Jayber Crow'; the setting is urban, but Worgul beautifully addresses similar ideas and themes. 
—'feelaham', Kansas City 

Smokin' Storytellin'
A literature student would be hard-pressed to analyze Doug Worgul's Thin Blue Smoke. The setting is the central character. The novel has multiple themes. The plot is exquisitely crafted but the narrative arc defies charting. At times the book feels as though it is a collection of short stories involving the same characters. You could read most of the chapters in any order, each standing on its own with its own story arc and its own powerful closing. Each of those closings foreshadows the brilliant ending that brings together the various threads into a moving story of faith, barbecue, baseball, blues and relationships.

The characters draw you in and keep you going: You feel redemption in the maturity and triumph of the purported main character LaVerne Williams, a blunt ballplayer-turned-convict-turned-smokemeister. You root for Ferguson Glen, the philosophical Episcopal priest, as he woos and challenges comfortable restaurateur Periwinkle Brown. You are charmed by the vulnerable A.B. Clayton and his much-slower-developing romance with musician Jen Richards. Even the seemingly minor characters are intricate and intriguing: blues singer Mother Mary Weaver, mental patient Warren Dunleavy, construction CEO Bob Dunleavy, gambling addict Rudy Turpin, the stern Rev. Dr. Clarence E. Newton, tattooed parolee Sammy Merzeti and LaVerne's uncle, son and wife, Delbert, Raymond and Angela.

But the real central character of the novel is LaVerne's Kansas City barbecue joint, Smoke Meat, which profoundly influences each of the characters and weaves their stories together.

Worgul's symbolism is powerful throughout the book. Everything takes on thoughtful meaning as the story unfolds — smoke, water, salt, vinegar, turtles, a silver Celtic cross, a Rocky Colavito model K55 35-inch Hillerich and Bradsby Louisville Slugger.

This book will make you hungry - hungry for some ribs from Smoke Meat and hungry to meet these characters in real life someday.
— Steve Buttry, Herndon, Virginia  

Big Book, With A Big Heart
Thin Blue Smoke is first and foremost a big book with a big heart. I don't think I could have taken it in one gulp, that is, read it in one sitting. It would have been too much for me. I had to take it in bits and pieces; chapters here and there. Not because it wasn't well written, but because my heart would get too full. I needed a break.

It is a book about free will, the choices we make, second chances, redemption, forgiveness, love, the meaning of life, and oh so much more.

I have to say that my favorite chapter was and still is 'Side by Side,' but I won't say why, because I truly want you to decide for yourself, dear reader. Though it may sound a bit cliché, and is probably overused, I'll say it here, with meaning. Run, don't walk, to buy and read this book.
— Chris, Novi, Michigan

Life Journeys with a Side of Ribs
A terrific tale unspools through the pages of this fine first novel. In Thin Blue Smoke author Doug Worgul has plundered the language of storytelling for all its treasures and he has struck gold. The picaresque characters of Thin Blue Smoke are the cousins of Steinbeck's often humorous and sometimes tragic lost souls in Tortilla Flat. Worgul's vivid portraits of people we often see in our day-to-day lives but too often ignore, of conversations we often overhear but don't consider, and his insistent moving disclosures of these lives, will leave you demanding a sequel. Firmly rooted in Kansas City, Thin Blue Smoke is filled with laughter, barbecue, the blues and a cast of storytellers with few equals. If you want a book that makes you feel like you're sitting among the men and women you're reading about, if you want a book that lets you in on the side streets of Kansas City and the byways of life, if you want a book that evokes voices, sights and sounds so passionately that they will linger in your head long after you've finished reading, run out and buy Thin Blue Smoke.
— J. Malcolm Garcia, Chicago 

Smoky, Tasty, Redemption Tale
I am seriously moved, definitely warmed and inspired as I just finished a new novel by Doug Worgul, titled, Thin Blue Smoke.

These characters got into my heart and let me know I still have a heart. They're real and flawed. Some of them have had some really bad breaks in life, but those bad breaks did not set their destiny; one human being caring about another did.

Having stumbled upon a review while surfing my Facebook updates, it was the context of Kansas City barbecue that intrigued me because I love barbecue and spent a good many years living just north and later, just south of KC. A downtown hole-the-wall barbecue joint is a connecting point for many of the characters in the story.

Food, friends, and faith are all meshed in a raw and real way to keep you eagerly reading. I was sucked in with a mention of my hometown in the first paragraph of chapter one and later references to obscure northwestern Missouri locales, all of which were familiar to me.

Worgul is a former features, book and magazine editor for The Kansas City Star, the author of two non-fiction works, and a bona fide barbecue expert. He writes so beautifully and warmly that you know this man knows something about people, God, relationships, redemption, and barbecue. It's not preachy in the least and is not a Christian book, in any conventional sense, but its message of love and redemption through relationships is, perhaps, the most beautiful I have ever read.

The characters are colorful, including the cranky old former professional baseball player and proprietor of the BBQ joint, the sort of adopted lost boy who runs the place, the scholarly, alcoholic, has been author Episcopal priest, the real estate developer with a secret, and the seventy-five year-old local legend blues singer, known as Mother. These are real people who have serious regrets, drink too much, have sex, and yes, some of them, are violent and corrupt. Not everyone is redeemed. It's like life.

There are scenes so tender that they got to a crusty old dude like me. The eccentricities of the people made me laugh out loud and the circumstances of their love and grief caused me to weep silently.

I loved reading this rich and rewarding story set in a place I know, but it is the people (I don't even think of them as characters) that encouraged me and inspired me to see if maybe, somehow in the twists and turns of life, I could be something of a redeeming influence for somebody. 

— Glenn Hager, Winthrop Harbor, Illinois 

Excellent word-of-mouth reviews will net this book big readership
Thin Blue Smoke was recommended to me by a close friend. I put off reading it for several weeks; I simply didn't think the subject would interest me. (Barbeque??!!) When I finally picked it up, I didn't want to put it down. I agree with another reviewer here that the book just made me feel good. The characterizations are what make Thin Blue Smoke shine—especially that of Ferguson Glen. Worgul could write a book just on Glen and I would read it in a heartbeat. As a former high school English teacher and an avid reader of fiction, I give this book a strong five stars and have already ordered copies to send to friends as gifts. Don't think that this book just will be about BBQ—it is about the lives of several fascinating people and how they intertwine with one another—like thin blue smoke.

Just one word of warning, however. At some point while reading the book, it is definitely likely that you will get an irresistible urge to eat barbeque!

Worgul is a gifted writer. I'll be very interested in reading his next work.
— Alice, Rome, Italy  

Thin Blue Smoke touched my heart and tickled my funny bone. All of the main characters face trying circumstances in their lives, circumstances that frequently bring tragedy. The meat of this story is how they deal with their tragedies. The recipe calls for patience, care and love, the same ingredients that go into great barbecue!

I savored this book like it was a platter of burnt ends. When I was done reading it I felt deeply satisfied, yet a little sad because I had to say goodbye to these people I had come to know so well. I look forward to Mr. Worgul cooking up another masterpiece for us some day.
— Julius Karash, Kansas City  

Great new voice in Fiction
Just finished this book. I'm not putting Worgul on the same plane as Steinbeck, but I have to say that he evoked many of the same emotions I felt when I read East of Eden. Worgul's portrait of the Kansas City Barbecue joint "Smoke Meat" was masterful. The 41 seat dive is just as much a character as LaVerne and Ferguson.

Worgul does a difficult thing in his novel: He explores the spirituality of two central characters without flattening them into flimsy flannel-graph caricatures.Both characters are deeply flawed, layered, and likable characters. God intersects these men without destroying their flaws, layers, or likability. These men are cut from the same cloth as the patriarchs in Genesis, just with a dot of rib sauce on their cheeks.

If this is the quality of work that the newly launched Burnside Books intends to maintain, then I'm an instant fan.
— Larry Shallenberger, Erie Pennsylvania 

What's behind the thin blue smoke
This is a funny and soulful novel about faith, race, bourbon, friendship, family, and the heart of barbecue in Kansas City. It is about life. And redemption. The characters are beautifully flawed and lovable; the setting is real; and the conversations are poignant. I had a difficult time putting this novel down, and so I read it twice, back-to-back. 
— Theresa Santy, California 

Where there's Thin Blue Smoke, there's . . .
You can truly feel the author's characters like you know them. Themes of music, baseball, prayer, and human tragedy swirl through this compelling story of lives intersected. Foodies and aficionados forever debate the finest barbecue, be it from Kansas City, Memphis, the Carolinas, or Texas. The best barbecue you'll find is in the pages of Thin Blue Smoke. It's a rewarding read — right through the last surprising bite.
— Bill O' Neil, Lenexa, Kansas  

Tasty and Filling
I loved, loved, loved this book! The characters are wonderfully complex & compelling and the description of the BBQ literally had my mouth watering and missing home. I highly recommend this book!
— April Killingsworth, Los Angeles  

You can't beat barbecue and the blues
There was a time when I couldn't put a great book down until it was finished. Now, I find that when I really enjoy a book, I keep putting it down because I don't want it to end! This was such a book!!! This is great writing, full of twists and turns, reflection and anticipation, bittersweet and thought provoking ... all at the same time. It is about the future and the past, about change and resistance to change. Most of all it is about the surprising nature of relationships and how faith simmers and flavors life. I kept wondering how fiction could seem so "real" as I read. There is something here for everyone — the smell of barbeque, the emotion of the blues, even baseball and redemption. This book can be read on so many levels, and I am already starting it over to see what I might have missed the first time through. This is a book you will have no trouble sharing with someone else!
—T.W. Seeber, Kalamazoo, Michigan 

Three Things I Love...
I was talking to a friend recently about this wonderful novel I had just read called Thin Blue Smoke. "It's about baseball, barbecue and God," I told him. "Three things I love."

In truth, baseball and God are more behind the scenes players in the novel set at a Kansas City barbecue joint that also pulls in a series of other topics ranging from gentrification and civil rights to mental illness, alcoholism and problem gambling.

The barbecue joint, affectionately known as Smoke Meat, is a key player in the narrative that unfolds about its grumpy former Kansas City Athletics outfielder owner LaVerne Williams and the diverse cast of characters who frequent Kansas City's best kept culinary secret. Through the richly developed characters, Doug Worgul weaves the kind of story that brings the characters so vividly to life you'll find yourself wanting to Google them to see "where they are now" when you finish reading it.

I'm a recent convert to the world of barbecue enthusiasm, thanks in part to the aforementioned friend who most recently introduced me to Carolina barbecue. Before reading Thin Blue Smoke I would say everything I knew about appreciating barbecue I learned from him. Worgul, who in his bio is referenced as "a nationally-recognized authority on the history and cultural significance of American barbecue traditions," has now become my other source for appreciating not just the culture and tradition, but the spiritual significance as well.

Barbecue, as Williams explains toward the end of the book, is about making something special out of the not so glamorous, taking the pieces of meat that would be otherwise discarded or tough to eat and turning them into something memorable. This process occurs not just with the meat in this story, but with the people whose lives cross paths and change forever over a checkered tablecloth and a basket of smoked brisket.

A true testament to Worgul's gift as as a writer and food critic is his ability to bring you into this world without making you feel like an outsider who has only ever eaten at Famous Dave's. Like the fictional BBQ joint that welcomes all comers, Worgul's book manages to include all of the elements of a great novel English majors spend four years studying without ever coming across as one of those books that strokes literary critics egos while boring everyone else to tears (there's a reason I've read so little fiction since earning a degree in English). In the end, the book accomplishes what all good works of art should - it inspired me to consider taking up fiction writing again, imagining and re-visiting characters I've created and long since forgotten from my days as an aspiring fiction writer.

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, the book has done for me at 34 what To Kill A Mockingbird did to me at 13. It's restored my love and appreciation of the novel and reminded me the value and importance of stories that come to life and characters who occupy our imaginations. 

— Matthew Ralph, Media, Pennsylvania 

Excellent novel
I had begun reading almost strictly nonfiction because too many novels followed a predictable formula...not this one! Great character development and multiple plot lines keep this compelling to the end. Don't have to be a fan of barbecue to enjoy this read.
— Matt Tidwell, Shawnee, Kansas  

I recommend it
If you're looking for BBQ gifts for hard-to-buy-for friends and relatives, you can't go wrong with Thin Blue Smoke. I read it cover-to-cover when it first became available on Amazon. It sounds like a barbecue book, and it certainly talks a lot about Kansas City BBQ. But it offers so much more than that. It's a book about life, about Kansas City, and about forgiveness. I think the chapters that focus on the character Ferguson Glen could be spun off into a stand-alone novel. If a movie were made based on this fictional Episcopal clergyman, I'd be the first in line to purchase a ticket.

Congratulations (again) to Doug Worgul for a fine work. I can't wait for his next novel.
— Brian Pearcy, Plymouth, Michigan  

It is very difficult to impress me. This book did. Nothing predictable, nothing forced... just real characters in real-life situations; no sensationalistic hyperbole, but so riveting, and so genuine. I want to follow the characters even further. Full range of emotion. Hard to put it down. I will buy Mr. Worgul's next book before it is released.
— Fritz Edmunds Jr., Kansas City  

Couldn't Put It Down
I was given this book as a gift and thought "wow, that's no thin book—this will last me through vacation." Wrong. Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down. The characters instantly became part of my life. I literally felt like I was in every conversation. The author did an excellent job of developing a number of complex characters and weaving their stories together in very surprising ways. I was disappointed when it ended...I want, no need, to know what the characters are doing today. Will there be a part 2?
— S. Gordon, Yucaipa, California  

Good enough to eat
I can't remember wanting to eat a book as much as I did this one. The barbecue descriptions are so enjoyable and mouthwatering — it truly made me wish I lived in Kansas City! I don't pretend to understand the publishing world and why some books get promoted by publishers and others don't, but it seems criminal that this book doesn't get more attention. If you like books that are funny, literate, heartwarming, intelligent and just plain good, take a chance on this one. You'll find yourself contemplating how patience and faith can take bitter things like smoke, vinegar and salt and transform them into something good and sweet.
— J. Munroe, Grand Rapids, Michigan 

Impressive debut
In this big, ambitious novel, author Doug Worgul skillfully sets a multitude of colorful characters in an epic story that spans decades and grapples with large themes. Among many other pleasures of Thin Blue Smoke is its acute sense of place, as it captures dead-on the feel and, yes, even the taste of present-day Kansas City. An impressive first outing from a novelist who clearly has something to say. I expect to hear much more from Mr. Worgul in the future.
— D.A. Conrads, Shawnee Mission, Kansas  

The NEW KC Masterpiece
Genuine and completely unpretentious; that is my heartfelt phrase to describe Thin Blue Smoke. Mr. Worgul has created a masterpiece of characterization, and the character list is not brief. But by the end of this novel you know each of them personally; their flaws, their wit, their heartbreaks, and their charming (and not so charming) idiosyncrasies. The personalities mesh into a perfect balance, despite obvious contrasts and socially presumed stereotypes. You will find yourself emotionally involved with them as if they were real. That alone would make this novel masterful...but there is so much more.

It's also an authentic portrayal of tragedy, fathers and sons, the love of a good woman, the love/hate relationship with good whiskey, redemption, and how God does (and doesn't) speak to His children. The situations and dialogue ring so true, and the humor that is laced throughout is priceless and always perfectly timed. This book made me foam at the mouth for brisket at 2 a.m., and constantly had me singing along with one of its main characters: The Blues.

Without a doubt, this was the best book that I have read all good that I plan to read it again. (Which I rarely ever do. Seriously.

This novel was not just several hundred pages to pass the time. It was an emotional, spiritual, hilarious experience, and the soundtrack is still playing in my head.
— Michelle Roach, St. Louis  

A book worthy of the themes it explores
This author respects his subjects and is patient enough to linger on the details that illuminate not only the characters but also a unique blend of American themes. The novel teaches the reader the "art" of barbecue, explores the challenges of faith and visits baseball of a prior era. However, at its core, this is a story about individuals and their struggles with themselves and events that continue to shape them. It's a book that will make you think. It might also make you hungry.
— Gareth Matthews, Leawood, Kansas  

The book jacket says that Thin Blue Smoke is a novel about food, music, and love—and it is, but it's so much more than that. It's about barbecue in all its variants, but it's also about nourishment for the soul. It's about music—and so evocative of the richness of blues and jazz and gospel and rock and roll that readers can hear a soundtrack in their heads as they read. It's about love: parental love, love of men and women, the love of dear friends, and most of all, the love of God. Thin Blue Smoke will make you laugh and dance and sing and cry...and weeks later you'll be remembering bits of the richly layered plot and wondering what happened to the characters after you closed the book. Outstanding writing by Doug Worgul—I can't wait to read what he'll write next.
— Janet G. Ackerson, Three Oaks, Michigan  

Need room for more stars...
I'd give it 7 or 8 of them...

I've lived all my life in Kansas City, and been involved in competition Barbecue for over 20 years, and I know the history and players in the Kansas City BBQ world well, and I LOVED Doug's book! My only problem with the book is that it wasn't twice as long. I really hope for a sequel.

Well developed characters mixed with just the right amount of historical references make this BBQ centric book much, much more. A guaranteed good read...
— J. Ross, Prairie Village, Kansas  

You won't be disappointed
I loved this book. I felt good every time I picked it up. More than good, I felt comfortable. I loved the story lines, the characters, and the writing. I would recommend this book to anyone.
— Barbara A. Rehm, Washington D.C.  

Colorful, vivid characters. Writing so descriptive you can almost taste the BBQ. And the story's got meat on its bones.
— J. Hinderer, Los Angeles  

Characterization 101
Thin Blue Smoke should be required reading for writing students. The characters are so well developed, you feel as though you really know them—(and like most of them, warts and all). Weeks after finishing the book, I find myself thinking about the characters and wondering what they're up to. Bravo, Mr. Worgul.
— Kay Mahoney, Overland Park, Kansas  

Opening a door to a new room
I don't know why, but novels have never been of interest to me. The closest I come to novels as a writing form would be biographies. I gravitate to history, philosophy, political writings, etc. A friend recommended Thin Blue Smoke, so I read it. Like much in life there are those that open a door to a room you have never explored. Thin Blue Smoke was such a room. In reading all of the above reviews, I agree with them all. The author took me to places and introduced me to people and raised some issues and shared profound understandings of life. It was not only a great experience, but it made room in my library for novels; I never discard a book that has become a part of me. Since reading Thin Blue Smoke I have read several more novels. Thanks to my friend and thanks to Doug Worgul my reading has become more interesting.
— Robert Odean, Ottawa, Canada  

Step on in and feel at home...
When finished you will feel you have taken on new family members. While reading you actually can see faces and feel their emotions. A.B. Clayton (one of the main characters) was a young man I would have adopted by the time I was done. An expansive look at religion, love, hate, laughter and of course BBQ. Get it now, it will be a book you read more than once.
— Darin Cram, Kansas City  

Great story!
I loved this book. I read a lot of books and this is one of my favorites. I will be telling everyone I know to get a copy. I hope there will be another book by this author. I didn't want this one to end.
— Sasota  

The thin blue smoke lingers
You know the way that your clothes get full of smoke around a campfire and you don't fully notice until you smell them the next day? In the same way, the aroma of the story and characters of Thin Blue Smoke lingered in my mind and heart long after I finished the book. You'll come to love the people you encounter. They're the kind of folks you'd love to meet, hear their story or share a great meal in a BBQ joint like "Smoke Meat". Take a chance on this book! It'll work its smoky magic on you.
— James W. Gum, Olathe, Kansas  

If you read only one book this year, make it this one
I love this book; the characters are terrific. The story revolves around a barbecue joint in Kansas City, and the odd assortment of people who work or eat there. On the surface, they have nothing in common other than their appreciation of fine barbecue. But as the story evolves, it's clear that the customers are a family of sorts and like family, they bicker and like family, they pitch in and help one another when necessary.

The characters are complex and have stayed with me long after I finished the book. Many of them struggle with personal failures as well as racism and religious issues. The book never goes overboard with these issues; rather, the author has perfect timing and knows when enough is enough. He also has perfect timing when it comes to humor. The book is funny in all the right places.

There's nothing thin about this book it's rich with complicated characters.
— Ann Weisgarber, Houston  

Must Read
One of the best books I've read this year or any. It does an incredible job intertwining the stories of its characters who are all brought masterfully to life. From the SMOKE MEAT sign to Laverne's line that both kids are his, it was thoroughly entertaining. It does a great job of telling the intimate stories of the key characters each with their own life struggles and victories. It also has some excellent history of the Kansas City area and its barbeque heritage. Highly recommended.
— Duncan Sensenich, Leawood, Kansas  

Faith, Friends, and Food
LaVerne Williams, owner of the BBQ restaurant known simply as Smoke Meat, hates being asked by customers what his "recipe" is. "It's a technique," he insists. And as there are so many different stories, fully-realized characters and themes that work together as a cohesive, entertaining and truly moving whole, I feel the same way when describing this book. The technique of allowing the reader to see this Kansas City restaurant and get to know the people who frequent it, of hearing their conversations and sharing their joys and pains, of asking questions about God, faith and tragedy without easy answers alongside them, and enjoying an entertaining story on top of it all. As with good BBQ, all the elements work together. As a disclaimer, I will say this: don't read on an empty stomach.
— Rebecca Older 

A quintessentially American novel
Doug Worgul's debut novel has the range and control of a veteran's work. He takes a wry look at a beautifully realised ensemble cast, refracted through the lenses of barbecue, blues, baseball and bourbon. Of these, barbecue is closest to the book's heart, and LaVerne, ex-baseball star and barbecue philosopher, is an offbeat and pleasantly flawed hero. At one point he discusses the essence of barbecue with another character (it's that kind of book), and they conclude that barbecue is the art of taking the worst cuts of meat, and transmuting them slowly over a low heat, making them into something wonderful. Worgul does something similar with his characters: poor, disadvantaged or alcoholic they may be, but over the course of this marvelous novel he smokes them until they too, turn into lives which fascinate and move us. This is a novel which takes to an America we'd all love to visit.
—Timothy Stretton, Boshham, England. 

A fresh, earnest new voice...
Thin Blue Smoke is a unique and wonderful novel in which Doug Worgul has created a rich community of characters whose lives intersect in and around their local barbecue joint. Their stories unfold over time in bits and pieces, just like the stories of the people in our lives. And the more time you spend with them, the deeper your affection grows. This novel shares the stories of this group of people in a fresh voice that is both interesting and earnest.

Thin Blue Smoke is the type of novel you will want to return to again and again, just like a favorite vacation spot. After reading this novel, I feel like I have found a new circle of friends.

I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.
—David Carnes, Overland Park, Kansas  

Every once in awhile I read a book that blows my socks off. The characters are alive, they invade my dreams and become best friends. And the book's message, well, it's now a part of my mantra: Live, love, believe, and eat a lot of BBQ. Thin Blue Smoke is a literary ride that you don't want to end.
—Elizabeth Johnson, Kalamazoo, Michigan  

I loved this book. The characters were so well written I felt they were real people. More than just a good read, this book was thought-provoking without being in any way stuffy. I loved the story lines, the characters, and the writing. I would recommend this book to anyone. Any chance of a sequel, as I don’t want to say goodbye to the Smoke Meat family!
— "jintyb" Edinburgh, Scotland 

Every page is smoke flavored
I love this book. Any author who can take the mundane and make it remarkable, make me want to eat at "Smoke Meat" has mastered his craft and displayed his talent. Some will fail to "get" the wonderful writing in this book. For me it will be one I remember from the untold books I've read over the years, books from authors such as John Irving or even Phillip Roth.

The style is simple but feels unique. The characters are people I either have known or want to know.

This is the best novel I've read since Last Night in Twisted River.
— Hal Brown, Ohio 

Glad I found SMOKE!
A few weeks before reading THIN BLUE SMOKE I didn't know about the book or its author. Partway through SMOKE, I was glad I stumbled onto it. The moment I finished it and clicked off my e-reader, I knew what my answer would be to a standard question: Read any good books lately?

Yeah! Worgul's SMOKE. Want to know the why? I'll tell you in a moment.

First, how'd I find it? I was searching for information on Frederick Buechner, a writer I admire. In one of the references, SMOKE and Worgul were mentioned. Buechner influenced Worgul, and was apparently thanked in SMOKE's acknowledgments. Good enough for me. And that's how it goes, isn't it? One link leads to another. A search for "A" takes a turn and discovers "B." Relationships are built through other relationships.

And this leads to why I loved SMOKE. It's about relationships. If the books you read must have a linear plot, like a mystery with a sequence of clues leading to a killer caught or the world saved, maybe SMOKE won't make your to-read list. Try it anyway.

On the tasty, tuneful surface, SMOKE involves barbecue and singing the blues. Still on the surface, it's about grief, love, failure and redemption. But partway through, thankful I'd stumbled across SMOKE, I realized how well it delved into the deep truth of relationships...between men, between men and women, between races, between families of blood and families of choice. I enjoyed living with and being irritated by barbecue master LaVerne Williams. Al Buddy became my buddy. When Reverend Ferguson Glen soared while delivering a graveside sermon, I also took flight. When the good reverend hit rock bottom, I felt the pinch of stone on my knees.

Many books are about "relationships." There's nothing unique about that. But it's how the author handles those relationships, and how the story allows me—as a reader—to enter into those families and friendships. SMOKE joyfully, painfully, truthfully welcomed me into its world of smoked meat and complex characters.
— Larry Patton, California 

You don't have to be a believer...
There are a few books I've read which I wish could go on forever, those few gems which suck you into a different reality and which keep you thinking about the characters long after you've put them down. This is definitely one of them. I hesitated to read the last few chapters, knowing I would no longer be visiting Smoke Meat and hanging out with the regulars. I wish I could find a way to contact the author and urge him to write another, as quickly as possible please.

This is a story of loss, redemption, forgiveness, and the human experience in general...all set against a background of baseball, blues and barbeque. And though I'm not a Christian, one doesn't have to be a believer to appreciate what we all go through as humans. This book is a great reminder that we are all in this together.

This is a wonderful book and I strongly recommend it to everyone.
— netpilot, Utah, USA

Thin Blue Smoke: A new American novel

“LaVerne Williams is a ruined ex-big league ballplayer and ex-felon with an attitude problem and a barbecue joint to run. Ferguson Glen is an Episcopal priest and fading literary star with a drinking problem and past he’s running from. A.B. Clayton and Sammy Merzeti are two lost souls in need of love, understanding and another cigarette. Set mostly in present-day Kansas City, Thin Blue Smoke is a story about making the most of the life you’ve been given. This funny and soulful novel is populated with unforgettable characters, including ‘Mother’ Mary Weaver, a larger-than-life, past-her-prime blues singer; Delbert Douglass Merisier III, an old-school Texas barbecue man, crusty and tender like a slow-smoked brisket; and Warren Dunleavy, who speaks the language of rabbits.


Published by Burnside Books, Thin Blue Smoke is an epic American redemption tale. It is a story of love and loss, hope and despair, God and whiskey, barbecue and the blues. Hilarious and heart-rending, sacred and profane, this book marks the emergence of a vital new voice in American fiction.”

"THIN BLUE SMOKE is a poignant story that unfolds in and around a tiny barbecue joint on the backstreets of Kansas City. With bold and twisted characters like those of Flannery O'Connor or Frederick Buechner, Worgul weaves a rich and redemptive story that captures the spirit of its gritty, urban setting as well as any American novel that is deeply rooted in a place. In our world of increasing isolation and infidelity, THIN BLUE SMOKE stirs our imaginations with the hope of what is possible through deep and tenacious friendships."

— C. Christopher Smith, Editor, The Englewood Review of Books

“Emerging from this book, I want to go back, I want to live with these characters for just a little longer, I want their voices in my head. Thin Blue Smoke is a wandering through a community bound by their shared histories, their dreams, and the food they love. It reminds me of the best things in life.

Like the good food holding these stories together, you can’t believe your luck when you sit down before a full plate. And Doug Worgul has done what all great writers strive to do: make you crave for more.”

Rajiv Joseph, Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright, author of “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo”; now on Broadway, starring Robin Williams

“As Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It does for Montana fly-fishing, Doug Worgul’s Thin Blue Smoke makes the poetry of Kansas City barbecue accessible to all readers. More than gorgeous prose and fully developed characters — this novel offers us catharsis. Communion has never tasted so good.”

Matthew Quick, author of The Silver Linings Playbook, Sorta Like a Rock Star, and Boy21


"The novel is not a page-turner – it cannot be read in an afternoon, simply because it isn’t designed to be. Like the barbecue that pervades each story and brings the characters together, this novel is meant to be absorbed slowly and savored. It is a collection of episodes that chronicle very broken people dealing with the very inevitable heartaches of very normal lives. Worgul’s examinations of themes like race, faith, love, loss, death, and the finer points of running a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, are never forced. Each story and the discussions that result are provided for by the day-to-day events of real life, with dialogue spoken by simple people who are slowly discovering, at their own pace, that they will never have all the answers."

"This, really, is what Thin Blue Smoke is about: people who need one another, and who share their understandings of how things work while the silent, patient, ever-moving I Am slowly fills in the gaps. The results are funny, tearful, thought-provoking, and, like a big mound of pulled chuck with a side of greens, deeply satisfying."

– Lyle Enright, at Relief: A Christian Literary Expression

"...beautiful and affecting..." "...brimming with wonderful, complex and humorous characters..." "This novel will satisfy anyone who reads it." "...Worgul may or not be nominated for a Pulitzer for Thin Blue Smoke (he certainly deserves it)..."

"...As gentle and positive as a novel can be in the 21st century without being naff."

Mr. B's Emporium of Reading Delights

"The book blew me away..." "...I was mesmerized..." "...Worgul loves painting pictures..."

— Aaron Barnhart, TV critic for The Kansas City Star

"Worgul’s a vivid writer with a gift for pathos and wry juxtaposition..." "...clearly a serious talent who serves up some beautifully seasoned characters. This promising debut is certainly worth a taste."

— Russ Thorne, reviewer for The Leed's Guide

"Thin Blue Smoke is an engrossing epic of faith and determination..." "...the dialogue is sharp and funny, the characters 'real'."

— Linda Leatherbarrow, reviewer for New Books, a magazine for readers and reading groups

"Thin Blue Smoke deserves to be a huge success." "...
marvellous novel..." "...a wry look at a beautifully realised ensemble cast..." "...quintessentially American..."

Tim Stretton, author of The Dog of the North

"Thin Blue Smoke is tragic, funny, and real..."

J.J. Beattie, book buyer at the Neilson Hays Library, Bangkok

"I love this book! Its complex characters stayed with me long after I finished it. If you read only one book this year, make it this one!"

"Shot through with tragedy and redemption, this is a juicy novel packed with big themes, bigger characters and generously soused in bourbon, barbecue and the blues."

— Kate Thomson, Waterstone's Shrewsbury

"...a profound and powerful sense of place..." "...the narrative flows effortlessly..." "...a cast of wonderfully engaging characters creating a place that I actually felt I belonged to for the duration of the book." "...a finely balanced blend of seriousness and humour..."

"This book is exactly my kind of book. I love it."

Aliya Whiteley, author of the novels
Three Things About Me and Light Reading

"...pungent and pithy..."

"...-quirky endearing characters..." "Brilliant atmos."

— Twitter from The Book Monkey

"Thin Blue Smoke is an engrossing, original and elegant slice of life..." "Incredibly funny..." "...the most colorful cast of characters I've ever encountered in a single book..."

Loralei Haylock, book reviewer at The Bookbag, a UK literary review Web site

"...excellent novel." "...smoky aura of authenticity..." " intriguing bunch of picaresque characters."

— Choice Magazine, March 2009, print edition.

"I almost don't want to review this book for fear of not doing it justice It is a tall order to encapsulate just how amazing it was. I have rarely, if ever, finished a book and immediately wanted to pick it up and start again. The characters are well drawn and fully realised, people I found I desperately wanted to know. The barbecue restaurants were vivid hubs where the delicious food and pungent smoke pour from the page. If you take one chance this year with a book, I urge you to make it this. I'm not ashamed to say I feel this book has altered me irrevocably for the better."

Lindsay Connors, Lancaster, England

"Thin Blue Smoke is a very, very good book..." " on prose..."

Neil Ayres, London-based author, reviewer, and blogger

"Worgul builds up layered portraits of his characters’ lives in short chapters written in an easy, conversational style. We get tragedy and drama as well as affectionate accounts of day-to-day events, a good smattering of homespun philosophy..." "A charming portrait of a certain kind of American life."

Sarah Broadhurst, reviewer at

"...Worgul's talent is building characters and dialogue that trips off the tongue and spills onto the page."

Yvette Walker, The Oklahoman

“Gentle, like a cross between Alexander McCall Smith and Garrison Keillor.”

annesadleir, reviewer at

Playlist of Songs Featured in Thin Blue Smoke:

"Everybody Got to Believe in Somebody" Sam and Dave
"Soul Man" Sam & Dave
"Sinner's Prayer" Eric Clapton
"Ooo Baby, Baby" Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
"The Devil Went Down to Georgia" The Charlie Daniels Band
"He Walks With Me" Merle Haggard
"Kansas City" Wilbert Harrison
"Roadhouse Blues" The Doors
"Gimme a Pigfoot" Bessie Smith
"Motherless Child" Bertha (Underwood) Morgan
"Mona Lisa" Nat "King" Cole
"Ramblin' On My Mind" Robert Johnson
"Traveling Riverside Blues" Robert Johnson
"My Back Pages" Bob Dylan
"Spirit In the Sky" Norman Greenbaum
"Life Without You" Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble
"Tomorrow Night" Joe Turner
"White Rabbit" Jefferson Airplane
"Mysterious Ways" U2
"I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" U2
"For the Good Times" Kris Kristofferson
"Take Me to the Water" Voices Of Victory Mass Choir of the Salem Baptist Church
"It Is Well With My Soul" Ruby Collins
"When Love Comes to Town" U2 & B.B. King