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Bookends: There are Consequences to Even Necessary Cruelties July 5, 2012

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: There are Consequences to Even Necessary Cruelties
By Dan Davidson
April 11, 2012, Star April 13/12
– 880 words –

Very Hard Choices
By Spider Robinson
Baen Books
278 pages
$9.50

A few years before the events in this book, aging hippie journalist Russell Walker was reunited with his college roommate, Zandor Zudenigo, and prevented from committing suicide by the simple expedient of Zudie washing the pain from his brain. Russell has been mourning the death of his wife for some time and was fixated on ending it all, but Zudie needed him for a higher purpose.
See, Zudie is a telepath who does not have an off-switch for his talent, and Russell is just about the only normal person he can stand to be within 100 yards of without getting sick. Zudie had inadvertently scanned the mind of a very evil man, a serial killer, and he needed Russell’s help to find the man and end him before he could kill an innocent family.
They recruit Constable Nika Mandic to assist them in this endeavor and, after a few pratfalls and near fatal errors, manage to deal with the bad man. Zudie mentally deactivates his sense of self and his dies. Russell refers to it as eating his mind, but that’s not exactly it.
All this took place in a book called Very Bad Deaths, after which Zudie went into seclusion to deal with the pain that his necessary actions caused him.
That was about half the novel, the other half being flashbacks to college days when Zandor’s only refuge from proximity to others was to have such a ferocious body odor that hardly anyone could stand to be near him. His nickname in those days was Smelly, and Russell was the only person who willingly had anything to do with him.
Very Hard Choices continues developing this back-story, and it turns out that there was more to Zudie’s college days than we were aware of. It also turns out that a very nasty former CIA agent, now well into his seventies, has been looking for Zudie for years, and that what they did to shut down the killer had provided him with enough clues to lead him to Russell.
Portions of the book are told from the agent’s point of view, and they reflect very much on Robinson’s love of his adopted Canada by having this hard bitten old man complain constantly about all the nice things that Canadians do.
On Heron Island Russell is trying to patch up his relationship with his son, Jesse, with whom he has been at loggerheads ever since the death of his beloved wife, Susan. When Dad is a reclusive columnist for a national Canadian newspaper and lives in the middle of nowhere, while the son works for a public relations firm in New York City, it’s hard for them to find common ground.
In the middle of their trying, Nika arrives with bad news. She’s being followed by someone. She had asked a relative of hers in CSIS to see if he could find out anything about the killer, Allen Campbell, and then things started to happen. Her cousin was assigned to a remote outpost and she picked up a tail.
This means they have to find Zudie, who has dropped off the map in a way that only he can, and find out from him who Mr. X might be. When they do get there, it turns out there is a story to be told, and so we get another flashback sequence.
Russell is pretty much an avatar for Robinson. Robinson is a shaggy haired, skinny, 60ish folksinger, has lost his wife to cancer, used to write an opinion column for the Globe and Mail, and had lung problems as a youth. Oh, and he is a dedicated pot smoker.
Russell has all these characteristics, with the addition that his lungs tend to partially collapse (pneumothorax) every so often and he is thus not the picture of robust health. There is a desperate sequence that has him rowing a zodiac on the open sea, which takes full advantage of this condition.
I’d say the book is about evenly divided between the present day thriller plot and the Sixties flashback sequences, and the latter events do have a definite bearing on the ones in the present so they are not wasted.
It’s typical of a Robinson book that things are not quite what they seem, either in relationships or plot developments. He had a religious upbringing and I think it left him with an abiding belief in individual salvation, though he would probably say it’s the marijuana. In a Robinson story, things work out in surprising ways.
Robinson stories are also funny. Sometimes, as in the Callaghan’s Bar series, the humour is an intentional, integral part of the story. Other times I think he just can’t help it. It’s Robinson who would chose to have a villain immobilized by smearing his hands with instant glue and clamping them around his manhood. It’s Robinson who would devise a weapon that knocks you out by over-stimulating your brain’s pleasure center. Neither of these things occurs in this book, but things just that odd do happen.
As always, Spider Robinson provides a feel-good reading experience.

-30-

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