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Bookends: Across the country in a dozen fun-filled days February 11, 2016

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Bookends: Across the country in a dozen fun-filled days

By Dan Davidson

December 21, 2015

– 706 words –

 

The Twelve Days of Christmas in Canada

Written by Ellen Warwick

Illustrated by 12 days

Sterling Children’s Books

36 pages

$12.95

 

The notion behind this little book is that we are asked to see it as the diary of an English girl who is spending the 12 days of Christmas exploring a good deal of the lower slice of our country, mostly the part where the majority of the people live. She has been gifted this trip by her Canadian cousin, Theo. His letter to her opens the text portion of the book. He warns her to bring her woolies, the mittens and hat (on which they missed a bet by not calling it a toque) because Canada, aside from being cool, is also “c-c-c-cold at Christmastime”.

On her vacation trip she manages to hit all 10 provinces, but the territories just get what amounts to footnote glimpses.

Part of this omission is no doubt due to the page limitations of the standard children’s picture book. This one has 36 pages, and has managed to make full use of its end papers, bumping it up to 40. There’s a big map at the front showing the route of Juliette’s excursion and the various ways in which she travels: plane, boat, train, car.

She touches down in Charlottetown, St. John’s, Halifax, Peggy’s Cove, Saint John, Fredericton, Moncton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Niagara Falls, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Calgary, Drumheller, Vancouver, and Victoria. At each location she pens a letter to one of her parents. This takes up the left page, while the right is full of vibrant computer generated artwork.

The Victoria segment is followed by a double splash page, providing a visual summary of the events and sights in the book.

A three page “Canada: From Sea to Sea” section provides lists of interesting facts about the country: cities, people, inventions, records, landmarks, history and nature.

The back end-paper spread, “Canada from ‘Eh’ to Zed”, is a huge bulletin board covered with mementos of the trip, including a lot of references to places Juliette didn’t visit. As a brief glance at our territory, there’s a flier from the Northern Lights Centre and the Signpost Forest in Watson Lake, and a ticket stub from the Dawson City Music Festival. There are a couple of Inuksuk related items from Nunavut and a blue ribbon log-sawing prize that shouts out to the NWT.

Now a book with that title has to be referencing the original “12 Days of Christmas” and so this one has its own cumulative rhyme, beginning “On the first day of Christmas, my cousin gave to me … a loon in a maple tree.”

Now, you might wonder what a loon, called Maple, of course, is doing up in a tree instead of on a lake, but that crazy loon follows Juliette and her cousin, Theo, across the country and is an amusing part of their continuing adventures.

These involve 2 mummers’ masks, 3 lobsters, 4 fiddles wild, 5 golden bagels, 6 Mounties marching, 7 streetcars ringing, 8 bears a-swimming, 9 sled dogs howling, 10 players skating, 11 snowboards shredding and 12 orcas breaching.

All of this is a good bit of fun and quite exciting stuff, but I do have to register a few complaints.

There’s nothing for the North in here. The polar bears are in a zoo in Winnipeg, and the sled dogs are somewhere near Saskatoon. The bulletin board references really aren’t enough.

It’s pretty much customary these days to refer to Canada as stretching from sea to sea to sea rather than as headed in the text pages, but this book doesn’t go there.

Finally, the reference to a “ceilidh” (kay-lee), as a type of Acadian party, will be something of a shock to all those of Celtic background. I’m sure the Acadian French have a word that means much the same thing, but that word is Gaelic, not Gallic.

Those exceptions aside, this is a clever little book and one that i am sure its target audience will appreciate. Oh, and you can sing the poem. I gave it a try.

 

– 30 –

Bookends: Moving pictures and new experiences February 11, 2016

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Bookends: Moving pictures and new experiences

By Dan Davidson

December 14, 2015

– 722 words –

 

Polar

Created by Dan Kainen

Written by Carol KaufmannPolar

24 page

Workman Publishing

$25.95

 

At some point or other you’ve seen a lenticular picture, otherwise sometimes known as jiggly pictures. The technology lends some depth and a limited amount of movement to what would otherwise be a flat image. Moving the card or picture reveals the presence of several slightly different layers of image, and our visual system fills in the blank for make it seem like an animated picture with the look of a 3D image.

In the case of Polar, this type or imagery is combined with informative text and inserted into 20 sleeves that pull the encased images as you turn up the pages, causing the illusion of movement.

The creator of the method, Dan Kainen, calls it Photicular, and has already produced books called Safari and Ocean, using the same techniques. He provides a short introduction to the ideas in the book and some brief directions as to how to get the most out of it. Basically, this boils down to keeping the book flat and not turning the pages too quickly. Do that, and all you get is a blur of motion, whereas a slow turn gives you an animated look at the animal in motion

Kaufmann provides a short essay in six pages at the beginning of the book, developing an environmental theme. Then each of the creatures gets a full page of text accompanied by a list of average vital statistics: size, habitat, range, diet, life span in the wild, threats and population.

The Aurora (featuring both the aurora borealis and aurora australis) has a section of its own at the end of the book, but the rest are creatures: reindeer, beluga whale, sled dog, walrus, snowy owl, polar bear and penguin.

While it might seem otherwise, this is not really a book for little kids. It’s sturdy, but needs supervision. It’s heavy, at 21 cm square by 4.5 cm thick, and made of stout materials. It opens sideways with the spine pointed away from the reader and the text sections are far too complex for younger readers. Also, just the notion of needing to work the visual magic slowly will require some teaching.

That done, children will undoubtedly get a lot of fun out of seeing the moving pictures and will eventually profit from the text as well.

 

Madame Martine Breaks the RulesMadame Martine

By Sarah S. Brannen

Albert Whitman & Co.

32 pages

$16.99

 

In Madame Martine’s first adventure she was bounced out of her stick-in-the-mud, colourless routine existence by the acquisition of a dog named Max. In this second book she and Max have developed a new set of routines. Most days are basically the same, but on Saturdays they always try to do something new.

As part of their regular routine they often have breakfast at a local café, where sometimes they meet Louis. He has been a guard at the Louvre Museum for the last 50 years, and he suggests to them that they might like to visit there.

Madame Martine knows that dogs aren’t allowed in the museum, so she declines, even though Louis says they just might be able the break the rules.

That should have been the end of the discussion, but that Saturday Max once again decided to taken matters into his own paws. Seeing Louis up the street he pulled away, zipped past him, and dashed in at the employee’s entrance to the museum.

The rest of the book is about how Madame Martine and Louis chase Max, manage to grab him and end up taking a surreptitious tour of the Louvre, while trying to keep the rest of the guards from noticing them.

They don’t succeed, but when the guards do catch them it turns out that all they want is to be introduced to Louis’ friends, and that no one really minds about Max, since he didn’t cause any problems.

Louis, it seems, is well respected by his colleagues and, as one says, “For a friend of Louis, we can bend the rules.”

Madame Martine’s life keeps adding new characters and experiences. The final page suggests that the next book will be about an adventure with the three of them.

 

-30-

 

 

Bookends: A love of science brings two disparate lives together February 11, 2016

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Bookends: A love of science brings two disparate lives together

By Dan Davidson

December 9, 2015

– 865 words –

 

CuriousityCuriosity

By Joan Thomas

McClelland & Stewart

416 pages

$15.99

Kobo edition – $13.99

 

Curiosity is that odd species of historical novel, the one that begins with the lives of actual people, and explores what connections there might have been between them.

The cover I’ve picked to show you here just has the words “a novel” as a subtitle, but other editions make Thomas’ intention clear by using the words “a love story”.

This fictional biography of two mismatched people is set in early 19th century Britain, at a time when social class conventions were set pretty hard and fast, and the roles allowed to be played by women were just as fixed.

The real Mary Anning was the daughter of a poor family who, without much in the way of a formal education, transcended many boundaries to become one of the pioneers in the study of fossils.

Her first teacher is her father, who digs up fossils and sells them to rich collectors for more money that he can ever earn making cabinets and coffins. After his death, teenage Mary turns to the sale of these curiosities as a way of supporting her ailing mother and the other children.

A gifted paleontologist, Mary unearths from the sea cliffs of Lyme Regis, a coastal village in West Dorset, many of the finds for which the men to whom she sells them take credit in the scientific world. Only later in life is she recognized as the treasure that she is.

The other central character in this story is Henry de la Beche, who we first meet when he is running away from military college. Henry is the son of a plantation owner from Jamaica. His income derives from the slave-operated farm there. He is rooted in the poor upper classes, and has all sorts of expectations of life, many of which he must rely on the resources of others to attain. Henry means well much of the time, but he is as trapped by his station in life as is Mary.

The “love story” sub-title has two meanings. The obvious one, the romance, is something that both of them feel not long after they meet, but one which is mostly denied them by birth and station. They spend a lot of time together, but only once does this lead to a physical relationship. Mostly they talk and share their fascination for the new science of paleontology. Henry uses his artistic talents to render on paper the bones and fossils that she finds, as well as mapping the geology of the sea cliffs for her.

Henry is trapped in a loveless marriage to a woman who seems to have set out to catch him at an early age and then regrets her choice. Their engagement, which begins in their teens, stretches on for what seems to be years and she is eventually unfaithful to him in ways that go far beyond the mostly platonic meetings he has with Mary.

There is much tragedy and hardship in both of their lives. Henry is held in disdain by most of the members of his family and his in-laws, tolerated rather than valued for the talents he has. He buries himself in the study of science to compensate for this.

Mary simply has a hard life, one of poverty from which she is occasionally rescued by well meaning upper class benefactors. In addition, in this age before Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species loosened up some of the preconceived notions of how creatures have developed, the kinds of creatures Mary is unearthing are held by many people to be evil in some way. This work is her calling and her only financial security, and yet she feels guilty about it.

The popular explanation for how the fossils got where they are being found is that they were creatures not rescued during Noah’s flood, and that their remains have been turned to stone as some sort of divine punishment.

Both Mary and Henry struggle with conflicting theories of how such creatures came to be, and why they no longer exist in the world.

The lives of these two are not always entwined. Henry travels while Mary does not. The alternating chapters of their lives are told is quite different voices, reflective of their differing personal styles, educational backgrounds and experiences.

Mary’s narrative is more matter of fact than Henry’s, while his shows a somewhat bookish and romanticized outlook on life.

One of the problems with e-books is that they don’t sit around reminding you that you haven’t read them yet. I picked up a Kobo edition of this one when Joan Thomas was a Berton House writer-in-residence here in 2012. It’s been sitting out in the “cloud”, not yet loaded onto any of the three devices that I have the Kobo (acronym for “book”) software on.

Published two years earlier, in 2010, the book was her second novel. It was named a Quill and Quire Book of the Year and was nominated for the ScotiaBank Giller Prize and the International IMPAC-Dublin Literary Award.

 

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Bookends: This sequel doesn’t need the original book to work February 11, 2016

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Bookends: This sequel doesn’t need the original book to work

By Dan Davidson

December 2, 2015

– 914 words –

Doctor Sleep: A NovelDr. Sleep

By Stephen King

Pocket Books

626 pages

$11.56

Kindle edition

$24.99

While this has been marketed as the sequel to The Shining, which most people probably know from the Kubrick movie rather than the original book, you really don’t need to have read that book to enjoy this one.

The Shining was written by a Stephen King who was just developing his own drug and alcohol dependency, and really didn’t understand it very well. Doctor Sleep, written over 30 years later, is the product of a man who hit his own rock bottom, was forced to face his demons and who, with the help of family and friends, overcame them.

What ties it to the earlier book is the question of what happened to young Danny Torrance, whose psychic “shine” gave that book its title, after he grew up. Let’s suppose that Danny found his gift a burden in spite of Dick Halloran’s tutelage and, that while he always swore he would never succumb to his father’s weakness, he eventually discovered that alcohol dimmed the talent that gave him nightmares, and became a drunk. It took awhile, but he did hit rock bottom.

We follow Dan for a number of years until he settles in a small town and becomes a devotee of Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s not a simple transition, and it is fueled by shame and a need to sort himself out. After a stint as a worker at a local theme park he becomes an orderly in an elder’s hospice for palliative care patients who are on their way out of this world. It turns out that his talent allows him to be of great assistance to the dying, helps them ease their passage to the other side in relative peace. He becomes known as Doctor Sleep.

Years pass. There are ways in which this story might have been a book by itself, but don’t worry, this is Stephen King.

It turns out that there is a “family” of what I suppose you would have to call psychic vampires. They call themselves the True Knot, and they feed on psychic emanations of human pain and suffering. They feasted in New York on 9/11 and in New Orleans when Katrina struck. They are functionally immortal as long as they feed regularly, and their favorite meal is the shining (they call it “steam”) of people who are talented like Dan Torrance.

Some of the talented can be turned to become members of the True Knot. Others die in he process and feed the clan, who travel the United States in RV caravans and look pretty much like ordinary folks. They look human, but part of the change and living the way they do means that they no longer are. They do age physically, but are rejuvenated by feeding. Some of them were around when cave people were drawing on their walls.

The thing about the shining is that, unless you make some kind of peace with it and use it regularly the way Dan Torrance does, it fades with age. So the favorite meals of the members of the True Knot come packaged in very young bodies. The young body we get to know best belongs to a girl named Abra Stone, who has a prodigious amount of the shining, enough that she senses the events of 9/11 when she is a baby. She has a wide range of talents, one of which allows her to mentally seek out and contact Dan when she is still a young girl of about two. At the time neither of them know what she is reacting to. Later, she senses the death of a talented youngster she calls the “baseball boy”, when he is taken by the Knot and devoured. In his death throes he reaches out for help and she receives his cry. She passes it on to Dan, writing a message on the blackboard he keeps in his rooms at the hospice.

The Knot’s leader, known as Rose the Hat, detects Abra at a time when her clan is in danger. The baseball boy had measles, and the clan members picked it up when they fed on his essence. Measles is quite deadly for adults and Rose’s hope is that acquiring Abra’s steam will cure them. When her early attempts to approach the girl telepathically result in a complete rout, Rose becomes obsessed with taking the girl’s life and power.

By this time Abra and Dan are in regular communication, have actually met, and have begun to plan ways to defend her from a probable assault by the Knot. Rose’s attempts have actually enabled Abra to find out a lot about them, how they work, what some of them look like. In addition, she is able to follow the movements of some of those who participated directly in the death of the boy

The second half of the book is about how the good guy
s totally ruin the bad guys. There’s a triumphal feeling about this story. You know very well that getting to the final solution is not going to be without struggle and turmoil but you read on feeling completely confident that Dan and Abra, and the others they recruit into the battle, will, in fact, succeed.

But it’s quite a ride, and there are lots of surprises.

-30-

 

 

 

 

Bookends: Headhunting the Police stirs emotions February 11, 2016

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Bookends: Headhunting the Police stirs emotions

By Dan Davidson

LIfe for a LifeNovember 25, 2015

– 770 words –

 

Life for a Life

By T. Frank Muir

Chicago Review Press

392 pages

$17.95

There is a pattern here that is common to most British police procedurals. The lead character, often middle rank with a few people working under him, will have lost his wife, either due to job pressures or infidelity (his or hers). Chances are he drinks too much, and knows it. He’s lonely. He may or may not be good looking enough to be pursued by some female associate. He’s quite bright, but probably a tad reckless and may get himself in over his head.

DCI Andrew Gilchrist of the Fife Constabulary in Saint Andrews, which my British bus tour experience tells me has lots of golf courses, can check off most of these boxes. It was his wife who was unfaithful, and that was probably dealt with in one of the three books that came before this one. Since the separation he’s had an affair with one of his subordinates, and that didn’t go well. The ramifications are lurking in the background of this book and do surface a bit at the end.

Andrew is gun shy about relationships. This seems to be due to his divorce and to that interoffice fling I mentioned. What he has to be nervous about is a very amorous and desirable medical examiner, who keeps coming on to him throughout the book. They have known each other, in the Biblical sense, just once, and he’d love to know more, but she’s married and it feels to him just too much like what his wife did, or at least that’s how it comes across.

Gilchrist has a new assistant in this book, a very edgy younger woman named Jessica Janes, who is, of course, nicknamed Jesse. She has a deaf and dumb son for whom she would do anything, and a clutch of really nasty relatives, a mum and two brothers, criminals all, who keep intruding on her life.

Jesse’s son Robert’s ambition is to become a stand-up comedian, or at least a writer of that sort of material. So Jesse has been helping him by trying out his stuff in clubs. She is not very good at it, and the jokes aren’t that great either, but it does show us how devoted she is to the young man.

Where Gilchrist deviates from the DCI template I outlined earlier is that he’s actually quite kind, in a sort of George Gently way. He actually cares about the people he works with, tries to understand them, and puts up with a fair bit of crap from Jesse in order to bring out the best in her as a detective and partner.

So here I am, halfway through this column and I haven’t even begun to the plot. Tells you what I liked most about the story, doesn’t it?

It’s a really ugly murder story, and it begins with a two and half page opening sequence that has a young woman running – unsuccessfully – for her life.

Initially, it’s a murder with what seem to be not clues, no motives, not even an identity. This is kind of where Jesse, newly transferred in from another region, comes in handy, because she’s seen something like this before, and that little end of a thread is just enough for the locals to pull on and begin to find other connections.

These a human trafficking ring. It’s super nasty, so much so that we eventually learn even the upper echelons of the local ungodly don’t want anything to do with the people behind it. Later on in the book Gilchirst has an absolutely chilling meeting with the local regional crime boss that really underlines how nasty his suspects are.

Because their local activities have been uncovered, even to a small degree, these lowlifes have decided to roll up their entire operation and start fresh elsewhere. To them this means eliminating all the girls, all the middle persons they used in setting up their base camps, and anyone that might have developed even the slightest of clues as to what they were up to.

That means they’ve decided to target the police, and they do it in a style somewhat reminiscent of the ISIS killings we’ve seen some many of recently.

The story goes off in some directions that I didn’t expect it to, and some of the solutions that are arrived at seem to be as a result of good luck rather than good planning, but life’s like that a lot of the time, so I really didn’t mind.

-30-

Bookends: An Extreme Act of Remembrance February 7, 2016

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Bookends: An Extreme Act of Remembrance

By Dan Davidson

November 11, 2015

– 787 words –

 

Through Blood and Sweat

A Remembrance Trek Across Sicily’s World War II Battlegrounds

By Mark ZuehlkeBlood & Sweat

Douglas & McIntyre

215 pages

$36.95

 

When Mark Zuehlke was at Berton House in 2003, he had finished writing a series of popular history books about the Canadian efforts in the Italian Campaign during the Second World War and had moved on to writing another series about the action during and after D-Day on the other side of the continent.

At the time he was also writing a series of three mystery novels about a coroner on Vancouver Island, a character inspired by his non-fiction study of those odd immigrants called Remittance Men. I’m hoping he’ll get back to the Elias McCann novels but, as it turns out, the Canadian Battle Series (11 books and counting) and the other Military Heritage series (four books), plus two in the Rapid Reads easy reading series have so far kept him too busy to plot another murder mystery.

It was his 2008 book,
The Canadian Invasion of Sicily, July 10–August 7, 1943 (Douglas & McIntyre) that got him involved in the adventure chronicled in this memoir. The trek was the brainchild of Montreal businessman Steve Gregory, who was walloped by the muse of inspiration while visiting a Canadian military cemetery in Agia in 2006. It was after that experience that he read Zuehlke’s book and began a single minded campaign to organize the 2013 event and to have Mark be part of it.

Needless to say, he succeeded, overcoming resistance from not only Mark, but also his partner, Frances Backhouse. On the other hand, Gregory was not successful in mobilizing what he had hoped to be a large number of walkers, including a sizable contingent of military personnel. Oddly, for all its sabre rattling, the Conservative government of Stephen Harper had a minimal interest in this celebration, and made service people available only near the end of the month long event.

They set out in July 2013 to attempt, so far as it was possible, to follow the 300 kilometre route taken boy the soldier of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division in 1943. Along the way they planted hundreds of markers to memorialize the service men who had died during Operation Husky, their ultimate objective being to reach that cemetery where 490 of the 562 Canadian dead were buried.

Each day meant marching under the grueling Sicilian sun, in temperatures sometimes topping 40°C, dealing with heat rash and dehydration, and also standing through day after day of very moving, but very long, commemorative ceremonies in each of the towns and villages that they passed along their way.

It needs to be pointed out that none of the core group of 10 on the march were young people. They were middle aged to elderly, from reasonably healthy for their ages to being barely able to cope with the strain. There were some illnesses and at least one short hospital stay before the trek was over.

Zuehlke had driven the routes they took while he was writing the earlier book, but writes that walking the countryside gave him a far greater appreciation of both the land and the difficulty experienced by the soldiers in 1943.

This isn’t strictly a first person, present tense, journal of the march. There are things we actually need to know about cemeteries, markers and how the whole cemetery program developed after the First World War. Zuehlke gives us this information in a different typeface and a different tense, dropping out of the narrative from time to time when needed to tell us what we need to know to appreciate what’s going to happen next as the marchers move on.

There are some spooky bits in this story. Sicilian stray dogs are not noted for being particularly friendly, but two dogs, at different times, join the walkers and turn up at what seem to be significant moments along the trek. Dubbed Husky I and Husky II, the serendipity of the dogs’ appearances lead the marchers and some members of the support crews (there’s a logistics team planning routes and Max Fraser’s film crew) to begin to wonder if there isn’t some sort of supernatural connection involved. Could the dogs be channeling the spirits of the departed soldiers?

As with his popular histories, Zuehlke makes a strong effort to include the voices of others in his narrative, giving us background stories and first hand observations and reactions from various of the participants.

This is an engaging book, one that not only tells us about the event itself, but about the history that inspired it.

 

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Bookends: This inheritance turns out to be a mixed blessing February 7, 2016

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Bookends: This inheritance turns out to be a mixed blessing

By Dan DavidsonBrass Verdict copy

November 3, 2015

– 933 words –

 

The Brass Verdict

By Michael Connelly

592 pages

Grand Central Publishing

$10.00

 

It’s been almost two years since I read The Lincoln Lawyer (2005), the first of the Mickey Haller novels. My Connelly library up to that point had all been the Harry Bosch novels, and I wasn’t sure if books about the lawyer would be as interesting as books about the cop. I needn’t have worried.

The time span is about right for reading this book. It’s been a year since Mickey nearly got himself disbarred for the events of the first book. He was sort of suspended; “sent to Cuba” was the phrase used, for the 90 day punishment that stretched out to 365 plus. In between he got hooked on the painkillers that he initially started taking to deal with the pain from the gunshot wound he got at the end of the first book.

As we meet him in this book he’s a recovering addict, a guy who doesn’t really feel like he’s ready to reenter the courtroom.

We actually begin with a scene from his past, a time when he destroyed the career of DA Jack Vincent by exploding what was supposed to be an open and shut case in front of the whole world. Vincent crossed the floor to defense practice and made a whole lot more money at it, so he ended up thanking Mickey for the career change.

Over the intervening years they worked together in a collegial manner, occasionally covering each others’ cases. Even so, it was a bit of a shock when Vincent was murdered and Mickey found himself designated the heir to his friend’s practice, office and the works.

In some ways this is a rare gift, a chance to get back in to the lawyer life without having to build up a new client list. On the other hand, the style is weird. Haller likes to work out of the spacious and office equipped back seats of a small fleet of Lincolns, and having a physical office feels weird.

Furthermore, it soon seems to become clear that Vincent died because he was too close to some secrets, and there are people who feel that Mickey must have inherited those along with everything else, so there’s the question of a potential threat to his life.

The biggest of the cases Haller inherited is the defense of Walter Elliot, a prominent studio executive charged with killing his wife and her lover. Elliot is adamant that he didn’t do it, but he is also uncomfortably certain that he won’t be convicted, and Mickey is never quite sure what to make of him.

Meanwhile, just to make the book really interesting, the homicide detective assigned to that case is none other than Harry (Hieronymus) Bosch. Something about that name, its association with the 15th century Dutch artist, and just the general air about Bosch seems awfully familiar to Mickey, but he doesn’t pin it down until quite late in the story. You won’t either unless you have a better memory than I did and recall a scene from the The Black Ice, the second of the Bosch novels, way back in 1993. It really is playing a long game when an author pulls a rabbit out of a 15 year old hat to close a plot circle in a book published in 2008.

There’s a lot to puzzle over here. On the mystery side there’s the Elliot case, along with several others that play out as sidebars just to show Haller getting back on the horse and learning to ride again. There’s the mystery of Vincent’s death, and Bosch’s insistence that the FBI is somehow involved.

On the Scooby gang side, there’s the reactivation of Haller’s team, which includes one of his ex-wives, Lorna, as his office manager and her lover, Cisco, as his investigator.

On the personal side there’s his fragile relationship with his other ex-wife, Maggie, who just happens to be a prosecuting attorney and who, more importantly, in the mother of his daughter, Hayley. Haller keeps trying to fix up that side his life, but his success rate is patchy, to say the least.

With his daughter, Haller has to deal with a bit of an existential conundrum, summed up as, and I’m not exactly quoting, “If Mommy works to put the bad guys away and you work to let them go free, who’s right?” Truth to tell, Maggie has the same problem with him.

Mickey’s in recovery from his addiction, from being out of the game for months and from having a lot of trouble really dealing with people on an emotional level. He sees it as a lack of empathy on his part, maybe from years of dealing with clients who never seem to tell him the truth.

There’s a sign that he is getting a bit better fairly early in the book. One of the clients he’s inherited is a surfer named Patrick who has fallen on hard times and has been busted for jewel theft. Mickey figures out a way to get him out of trouble, gives him a job as his driver, and even manages to reclaim one of his favourite boards for him.

That’s a really minor plot point, but it does show a bit of character development.

To find out how everything else turns out, why Bosch seemed so familiar to him and what the heck the title means, you’ll just have to read the book.

 

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Bookends: Murder and Mystery at the Top of the World February 7, 2016

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Bookends: Murder and Mystery at the Top of the World

By Dan Davidson

October 28, 2015

– 986 words –Sundown

 

Sundown on Top of the World

By R.E. Donald

Proud Horse Publishing

306 pages

$18.95

 

R.E. Donald’s latest mystery begins in 1972, near Johnson’s Crossing, Yukon. RCMP Constable Hunter Rayne has been called to investigate a disappearance at a trapper’s cabin off in the woods. Another trapper has found what looked like a death scene at the cabin owned by Martin Blake and has brought Rayne out there by snowmobile to investigate. Rayne finds what appears to be the site of a bear attack. No sign of the Blake’s body, but lots of blood.

There are also pretty clear indications that there had been a young woman at the cabin. The photo tacked to the wall gives Rayne a shiver that will stay with him for years. He had known April, the pretty young waitress he had never quite got round to asking out in Whitehorse. There’s no sign of her either.

There’s never any sign of either body, and the case remains unresolved for the next 25 years, though Rayne thinks about it often. He was a dedicated officer, too dedicated for the good of his marriage, which happened and failed in the intervening years, leaving him the part time father of two grown daughters.

Somewhere along the way a good friend and fellow Mountie killed himself and Rayne soured on the investigative life. He took up long-haul trucking as a way of making a living, but he’s not quite able to shake the skills and instincts he had spent so many years developing, and so he often finds himself knee-deep in mysteries along his routes.

This one takes him back to the Yukon, with his ne’er do well buddy Dan “Sorry” Sorenson riding shotgun. Sorry’s in a sorry state, having just lost yet another job and been kicked out of the house by his wife. Rayne could use the company, although sometimes Sorry is more of a nuisance than he’s worth.

Before we begin the buddy road trip that is supposed to go north to Fairbanks, we make a stop just south of Eagle, along the Yukon River, where old Betty Salmon lives with Goldie, the girl she has raised since she was a baby. Goldie’s a young woman now, and getting itchy feet, hankers for the bright lights. She loves her Gran dearly, but is annoyed that she won’t tell her anything about her actual parents.

Rayne and Sorry break down in Whitehorse. Having to wait several days for parts and repairs, they borrow an SUV and do a little sight seeing: Chicken and then Eagle. There, Rayne is startled to see a young woman the spitting image of the one whose disappearance has haunted him for years. He is convinced she must be April’s daughter. Further, he has been obsessed with that old cold case ever since he crossed the Yukon border, and is now determined to solve it.

His is not the only backstory that we get in this book. Betty has had a very hard life, and we spend a good deal of time in her memories, establishing how she got to be who and where she is. Eventually we learn where Goldie entered the picture and what happened to April, but it all comes in good time, and there are some sidebar tales that also need to be told.

There’s Oliver’s story. He’s a Brit who came to the Yukon to find gold and ended up finding what he thinks is a pretty golden life but, at Betty’s age, he’s finding the wilderness trapping lifestyle a bit hard and so he has set out to travel. He’s a great old guy and he takes a shine to Betty when he arrives in Eagle. Wonder of wonders, especially after we hear about her life, she likes him too, but it appears he might have a dark secret – perhaps a murder – in his past.

The old couple leave town when Rayne starts coming around sounding for all the world like cop in civvies. Oliver doesn’t actually meet him, but gets skittish any way. Oliver gets himself arrested in Chicken and taken back to Whitehorse, where Rayne is planted in his cell as a miner in trouble is order to draw a story out of the polite old man. Rayne becomes convinces he didn’t kill the bar owner who died, but that he is protecting someone that he thinks did do it.

So, there’s the original 25 year old cold case, the question of where Goldie came from, the murder Oliver’s accused of and – oh yes – the search for Betty, who has taken off up river in an under powered motor boat to retrieve some documents she now believes she has to give to Goldie.

In addition, there’s the rehabilitation of Sorry, who is kind of comic relief and more than a bit of a pain through much of the narrative, but who turns out to have actually learned something from the near death of his family life and ends up playing an important role in Oliver’s story.

There’s a lot going on in this book, and Ruth Donald has done a great job of weaving it all together in an engaging way.

The settings are all a little off, but she has wisely chosen to concentrate on the ambience of the places rather than the specifics, and so her accounts of Whitehorse, Dawson, Chicken and Eagle have a good feel to them even if they are somewhat vague. Being set nearly 20 years ago helps achieve that.

Sundown on Top of the World is the fourth book in the Hunter Rayne series. Each of them features the former Mountie finding a mystery along a particular road. The earlier titles are Slow Curve on the Coquihalla, Ice on the Grapevine and Sea to Sky.

 

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Bookends: A wild time in the old west February 7, 2016

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Bookends: A wild time in the old west

By Dan Davidson

October 21, 2015

– 982 words

 

The Sisters Brother

By Patrick DeWittSisters

House of Anansi Press

344 pages

$17.96

KOBO e-book $9.99

 

Eli Sisters is not a happy man. Dominated by his brother, Charlie, he’s on his way down the west coast of the United States from Oregon to California to kill a man named Hermann Kermit Warm on behalf of their boss, the Commodore. El doesn’t like being a killer for hire, but it seems to be all he’s good at. This bothers him. He has dreams of settling down and becoming a store keeper, but Charlie thinks that’s foolish.

It’s 1851 and the California Gold Rush is in full swing. The mission on which the brothers, who have achieved some notoriety in their profession, have been dispatched, has some connection to the rush, but they don’t know what.

This story is very much Eli’s, told in a nearly mournful, sometimes matter of fact, sometimes poetic, first person style that reveals almost as much as the words themselves.

He worries about everything: about the black rage that rises up to consume him when it’s time to draw his gun; about his weight; about his lack of success with women; about his brother’s constant drinking; about his sad, sad horse, which seems nearly dead on its feet half the time.

Charlie has always been the dominant one, but he is also the one who slows their journey down, drinking himself into a stupor from which it takes him a day to recover on more than one occasion. It is his abandoning of Eli in what they think is a witch’s house, that ends with Eli having to shoot the bear that attacked his horse, Tub, outside the house. Ultimately that assault leads to the horse’s death, but not before it has many more trials.

Eli’s experience with a self-taught frontier dentist is just one of the laconically funny bits in the book. The use the two brothers finally make of the anaesthetic liquid used during the tooth extraction is hilarious.

Equally funny is Eli’s conversion to the use of a toothbrush and minty tooth powder, Charles thinks it’s silly to begin with, but Eli, for once, ignores his brother’s scorn and Charlie ultimately takes up the habit himself.

They run into trouble in regular towns and in Mayfield, the town named after the hotel owner who had struck it rich in the goldfields. There are casual slaughters along the way, related as if they are ordinary, every day events, and not to be concerned about. In Mayfield there is at least the excuse that the men they killed were planning to kill them, but that hardly excuses the cold bloodedness of it all.

And yet, the narrative persuades us to like these men, or Eli, at least, and feel sorry for Charlie when tragedy overtakes him.

Arriving at last in San Francisco they find that the Commodore’s other agent, a man named Morris, has changed allegiances and gone off in search of gold with Warm.

Reading Morris’ journal they learn that Warm, who has an interesting backstory, has discovered a way of distilling a liquid that will reveal the presence of gold in any river or stream and enable a prospector to scoop it up with a minimum of effort.

Warm had, at one point, tried to interest the Commodore in his discovery, but that man simply tried to force the recipe from him and Warm just managed to escape with his life. This story meant that Warm was not the thief the brothers had been led to believe him to be, and caused them to begin to re-evaluate their association with their boss.

When they finally track down Warm and Morris they still haven’t really decided what to do with them, but they have decided to play out this adventure, return home, kill their boss and leave this life of murder and mayhem. Sadly for them, it doesn’t quire work out that way.

The special liquid works, works well, but it is very toxic, and wading in the water while it is working to reveal the gold has had an extremely deleterious effect on the legs of both Warm and Morris, who have been at it for some time before the brothers arrive on the scene. Ultimately, an accidental spill of the undiluted stuff onto Charlie’s hand results in such damage that the hand and part of his arm have to be amputated.

In the end, the brother’s quest for one final stake before quitting the killer’s life fails. Warm and Morris die of the toxicity. Indians (this is 1851 – you can still say that) relieve them of all the gold. They barely make it back to Oregon City, broke and damaged.

Along the way Eli stops to dispatch their former boss and they end up at their mother’s home. The book ends on one of those meditative notes that pop up throughout the narrative, with Eli lying on a mattress on the floor, listening to Charles taking a bath in the next room, hearing the movement of the water.

“It seemed to me I could gauge from these sounds the sorrow or gladness of their creator; I listened intently and decided that my brother and I were, for the present at least, removed from all earthly dangers and horrors. And might I say what a pleasing conclusion this was for me.”

This is a multi-award winning book, having scooped up the Governor General’s Award, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the 2012 Stephen Leacock Medal (for humour), as well as the award for Best Fiction at the Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Awards and the 2012 Canadian Authors Association Award for Fiction.

It was shortlisted for several other awards, and has already been optioned for filming as a movie.

 

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Bookends: Murder and the Black Death February 7, 2016

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Bookends: Murder and the Black Death

By Dan Davidson

October 14, 2015

– 837 words –

 

PlaguePlague

By C.C. Humphreys

Doubleday Canada

362 pages

$24.95

 

When C.C. Humphreys was mentoring at last spring’s Young Authors’ Conference in Whitehorse, he was energized on the second day by the news that Plague, his recently published historical mystery/thriller novel, had been nominated for the 2015 Arthur Ellis Awards best novel prize. The long list for the 2015 award, which is offered by the Crime Writers of Canada, was pretty extensive, comprising some six dozen books by Canadian authors. I was only familiar with the work of maybe six or eight of them, but it seemed that Chris was in good company.

Plague was one of the books I took with me on our recent vacation trip. Well, now it emerges that he has topped the list and won the best novel prize. This may have been announced earlier, but I just decided to check the website today, when it was this book’s turn to arrive in Bookends.

Humphreys has a love of historical fiction, and his novels, whether adult or young adult, often have historical settings. He writes fantasies, time shift novels and plain old historical fiction, but Plague really does fall into the mystery/thriller category.

There are several central characters, and not all of them are males. We first meet a highwayman, a former soldier who goes by the nom-de-guerre of Captain Cock, which is just way too close to his actual name: William Coke. He’s kind of a Robin Hood character, though the deserving poor tend to be restricted to himself and his young assistant. What he finds in the coach he sets out to rob leaves him retching in the roadway.

Hard on his heels is a thief-taker (think bounty hunter) by the name of Pitman, also a former soldier. We’re at the tail end of the dynastic wars in England, and Charles II has been the restored Stewart king for about six years. There are a lot of ex-soldiers, who might have fought on either side during the civil war. Pitman is also a part time constable, and he has a growing family to feed. Because he thinks that Coke is responsible for the awful slaughter in that coach, he seeks him with more that usual diligence.

The other central character is Sarah Chalker, an actress whose fate eventually binds the two men together in a search for the man who murdered her actor husband. It is the details of this death, so strikingly similar to those in the coach, that convince Pitman Coke is not his man.

Sarah fends off the advances of a nobleman who wants her, and she mourns the loss of her husband when he ignores her cautioning, sets out to defend her honour, and is killed. But she has fought to gain her place in the theatre, where women have only just been allowed to be players, and she uses all her skills to protect herself when more danger comes her way. In a very real sense, she rescues herself in the end, before her two champions can find her.

As is often the case in this type of mystery, we also spend some time in the head of the villain himself. We actually spend more time than we think we do, but that doesn’t beome clear until later in the story. Through his point of view we get a good sense of the religious fanaticism that is fueled by the certainty, among some folk, that the plague is the judgment of God on the hedonistic lifestyle that Charles’ reign ushered in after the strict Puritanism of Cromwell’s regime. For them the Second Coming of Christ is imminent. We see how such deluded reasoning can be used to justify all manner of evil, and have the perpetrators still believe in their own righteousness.

Humphreys is very good at setting scenes. Whether we are in the country, in crowded tenements, at the theatre, near the court, in the squalor of the bad parts of London, or in Newgate Prison, we feel that we are there. We catch the flavour of the era (London, 1665) and feel the passage of time.

We understand the fear of the Black Death and suffer with Pitman when he returns from an unsuccessful pursuit to discover that the house in which his family lives has been marked for quarantine.

I found it particularly interesting how two men who were set to be adversaries as the book began found a common greater cause to unite them and did their best to work together to that end, overcoming all the many obstacles that the time and society placed in their way.

After a rousing opening sequence Plague slowed down a bit in the first third, but it really picked up after all the various points of view were set in motion, and held my attention to the end. Seems like a lot of other people liked it too.

 

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