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Bookends: What do you do when a Wolff is at the door? June 3, 2013

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Bookends: What do you do when a Wolff is at the door?

Revolver

By Dan Davidson

December 5, 2012

 

Revolver

By Marcus Sedgwick

Orion

220 pages

$18.95

 

Revolver is billed as a children’s book, and I suppose it could be classified as young adult, since the usual rule for that is that the central character is not yet an adult. Sig, or Siegfried as he would grow up to be known, fits that description.

On the other hand, this book begins rather grimly for that age group.

“Even the dead tell stories.

“Sig looked across the cabin to where his father lay, waiting for him to speak, but his father said nothing, because he was dead. Einar Andersson lay on the table, his arms half raised above his head, his knees slightly bent in the position in which they’d found him; out on the lake, lying on the ice, with the dogs waiting patiently, in harness.”

What could have possessed this experienced musher to take such a dangerous route at that time of year, to plunge into the ice, and in a chilling reenactment of the miner in Jack London’s “To Build a Fire”, die of exposure while trying to light a fire out on the ice?

These are just a few of the questions left for Sig, his older sister, Anna, and their step mother, Nadya, in the wake of his death. Then, while the two women are gone to fetch help in town, Sig is faced with the arrival of the one-thumbed man named Wolff, the man out of his father’s past, who has tracked them for ten years and wants only one thing.

“Where is the gold your father stole from me?”

Part of this story takes place near an iron mine in Giron, Sweden. There it is 1910 and the Andersson family is 11 years and thousands of miles away from Nome, Alaska, where the story begins at the tag end of the Klondike Gold Rush.

This is where we meet Einar as a living man, 30 pages after meeting him as a corpse. He is begging a ship’s captain to take him, his sick wife (who he fears is dying) his ten year-old daughter and five year old son away from this place of broken dreams. It doesn’t happen, but Maria survives and, after hitting a low point, Einar is given a job in an assay office and while the family does not thrive, it survives and saves enough to plan an exodus from Nome.

Wolff encounters Einar there, at the office, and becomes convinced that Einar is somehow managing to accumulate a golden horde by some devious means. To keep his discovery secret, he demands half.

Maria’s death is the trigger for the rest of the family’s abrupt departure, and by the time we hear of it we are quite certain that Wolff both raped and killed her. The book manages to keep little secrets by bouncing between settings and also shuffling in time. Of gold we hear nothing, except for Wolff’s insistent demands, first in Nome, then in Giron.

Sig’s desperation causes him to recall the ancient Colt revolver, which his father had once taught both him and his sister to shoot, had instructed them in its workings, its strengths and its weaknesses as a weapon. It is much like the one in Wolff’s good hand, the one that endangers him and, when she returns to the cabin hours later, his sister.

By that time Sig, who is only inexperienced, not stupid, has worked out what probably happened to their mother. He sees it in Anna’s eyes, who was 11 when she saw Maria’s body on the floor in the Nome hovel, and understood then what it meant, and in Wolff’s eyes, as he looks her up and down and decides that if there is no gold, then there will be the consolation prize of a beautiful woman in her early twenties.

Could it be that the Colt, hidden in their walk-in pantry, might somehow be the solution to their problems? Would he be able to kill this evil man? Would it be the right thing to do?

Sig is caught in a moral quandary, but it is one that is resolved in an entirely appropriate fashion, the solution being compounded of chemistry, physics and Wolff’s basic nature.

Leaving aside the Nome portions of the story, which are there to provide background and motive, the events of this book cover about 36 tension filled hours. Sedgwick has told us a gripping story, but has also posed some vital questions about the choices that people make.

 

-30-

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