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Bookends: The tale of the Immortal Man February 17, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Whitehorse Star.
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Man of LegendsBookends: The tale of the Immortal Man

By Dan Davidson

September 5, 2017

– 824 words –

 

The Man of Legends

By Kenneth Johnson

47 North (Amazon)

413 pages

$21.95

This story begins with a batch of seemingly random encounters. A number of quite different people, with an assortment of different personal issues, are approached by a man who makes a suggestion to them or nudges them in a specific direction, and when they follow his urging they find that it makes a positive difference in their lives.

The man is named Will or, at least, that’s one of the many names he has used during his extended lifespan. He appears to be about 33 years of age, and has seemed to be that old since about 33 AD. There are various legends about immortal men that are linked to that date. They are always connected to the crucifixion of Christ. One is the story of the Wandering Jew. Another is linked to the Roman soldier who stabbed Jesus with spear while he was hanging on the cross, in order to check whether or not he had died. In both cases the men are said to be cursed to live until the Second Coming.

The character who becomes Will is not either of these fellows, but has been similarly afflicted due to something he did to Jesus while Christ was carrying his cross along that uphill climb to Calvary. We don’t learn what this was right away.

Will’s curse has been tampered with by another agency, a former angel who also goes by a variety of names. Will can only stay in one place for three days at a time before he experiences extreme pain and must move a fixed distance away. Further, once he has been in a particular place, somewhat more than three centuries must pass before he can be there again.

This curse has caused him to lose everyone he has ever loved. He saw his original family grow old and die. All of his important friendships must, of necessity, be ephemeral in nature. This is a bit of a plot problem, for we are asked to believe that he has been an important factor in the lives of a number of significant historical personages over the centuries, and it would have been hard for him to sustain any long term relationships for the length of time needed to form strong relationships.

The three day factor also applies to his health. Early on, when the full import of what had happened to him began to sink in, he attempted suicide a number of times. He failed. His body repairs itself from any sort of damage within three days.

Twice in his long life he has lived in hope of his time coming to an end. The first time was at the end of the first millennium AD, which some texts had prophesied would mark Christ’s return. The second time is where we pick up the story, approaching the end of the year 2000, and the real beginning of the 21st century in 2001.

It’s New Year’s weekend when an aspiring journalist named Jillian Guthrie, who is working for one of those tabloid supermarket “papers” while looking for a way out, discovers a series of pictures while putting together a spread for her paper. The same man, looking the same age, stands alongside Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, and Gandhi in three different photographs spanning eighty-five years of history. More to the point, she has recently seen this man in the flesh. She persuades a colleague to help her track down this mystery man.

At about the same time, Will is busy saving some people from a burning building. He is horribly burned himself and becomes a news story. Jillian recognizes his face in the newscasts and haunts the hospital where he has been taken.

Not far away is the dapper young man who has often turned up in Will’s travels over he centuries – his original name usually rendered in English as Lucifer Morningstar.

Also nearby is an agent of the Vatican, tasked with a generations old task of tracking down the nameless immortal whose existence is so perplexing and perhaps troubling to the Roman Catholic Church.

Finally, there is Hannah, an elderly former UN Envoy with whom Will had enjoyed his last romance many decades earlier, from whom he had to flee the last time that Vatican agents got this close to him.

We learn a lot of Will’s personal story while he is slipping in and out of delirium in the hospital. Some we get from the Vatican agent, some more from Hannah.

The story builds to a climax of supernatural proportions, in which many of the bit players we met at the beginning of the book play a significant role.

Quite often fantasies of this nature don’t take matters of good and evil seriously. This book was refreshing in that it did.

 

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Bookends: The Saga of Mr. Mercedes Comes to a Suitable End February 16, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery, Science Fiction, thriller, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: The Saga of Mr. Mercedes Comes to a Suitable End

By Dan DavidsonEnd of wATCH

July 10, 2017

– 888 words.

 

End of Watch

By Stephen King

Scribner

$14.16 (paperback)

$10.99 (Kindle)

448 pages

 

In at least one previous book, Rage, first published under his nom de plume, Richard Bachman, Stephen King described a high school shooting spree. He wrote it in the early 1970s and it was published in 1977, before such things became nearly annual horror shows. Not surprisingly, there were people, who want to blame this sort of behaviour on anything other than the vast American home arsenals just waiting to be misused, who blamed the book for inspiring such atrocities. In response, King allowed the novel to go out of print.

I have to hope that the Bill Hodges trilogy won’t meet the same fate. End of Watch brings the Hodges saga to a satisfying conclusion, but adds a touch of the paranormal that was not present in Mr. Mercedes or Finders Keepers, both of which were pretty much mundane mysteries with a touch of the thriller genre mixed in.

It’s the set-up sequence in each novel that might give the books a bad reputation. In each of the books, people are dealing the ramifications of Brady Hartsfield’s decision to steal a lonely woman’s Mercedes automobile and drive it into the midst of a large group of victims waiting in line for a chance at a job fair.

We have recently had a spate of these activities in England, France and other European countries, but I don’t think you can blame them on King. He didn’t invent the idea. There were such cases in he USA, and at least one in Canada, before he wrote the first book.

The killings in the book were inspired by an actual event which had taken place at a McDonald’s restaurant. King ramped up the body count and spent quite a bit of the book guiding us through the mad mind of the killer, who followed up his original evil deed by taunting the poor woman whose car he had used until she killed herself.

His big mistake was going on to taunt former homicide detective Hodges, who had been unable to solve the case before he retired. Energized by the attack conducted by telephone and e-mail trickery, Hodges, along with some young associates, does solve the case, and Hartsfield is institutionalized with brain damage as a result.

The book won the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award in 2015.

Finders Keepers ,which is the name of Hodges’ private eye practice, goes off in an entirely different direction, but still deals with people whose lives were impacted (sorry, couldn’t resist) by the original crime, which is recapped from a different point of view in the opening chapter.

End of Watch returns to the villain of the first book, whose brain has been altered by the events of his capture, and by some very unethical experiments that one of the doctors tending him has been conducting. Hartsfield slowly discovers he has the ability to project his consciousness into the mind of a person who has been slightly hypnotized by a certain frequency of flashing lights. Eventually he is able to control such persons – first a slow witted hospital orderly, and eventually the doctor – and walk around using them as his meat puppets.

Add to this the discovery that a certain brand of defective hand-held video games can emit this frequency, lure victims to log on to a special website, and thus extend his reach beyond his sick room, and Hartsfield is ready to take his revenge on the people who stopped him when he attempted to be a suicide at a boy band rock concert several years earlier. He arranges to buy up a stock of the units and us them to target people who are connected to Hodges and his young friends, people who were his immediate targets at that concert. There is a sudden spate of suicides and it takes a while for Hodges to make the connection.

Hodge is distracted by the fact that he has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. While he does not want to die, having found fulfillment in his new career, he is more worried about his autistic partner, Holly, who has blossomed so much while working with him.

He has always suspected that there was more to Hartsfield than the seeming vegetable in that hospital bed, but getting anyone else to think seriously about his suspicions is an uphill battle. Finally his old partner does offer some encouragement, but even that is limited. By this time Hartsfield has left his original body, which dies, and is fully in the mind and body of the neurosurgeon whose unethical use of drugs has boosted his powers of telepathy and telekinesis.

Hartsfield’s attempts to draws Hodges into his plot so he can mind control him as he has done his other victims backfire in the same way as in the first book, but with far more terminal results.

The title has a number of possible meanings, and most of the ones I can think of fit the story well. So, I do hope the books don’t do out of print, and this is a trilogy that make a good set of movies.

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Bookends: Robbie Robertson and the story of The Band February 16, 2018

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Bookends: Robbie Robertson and the story of The Band

By Dan Davidson

August 9, 2017

– 860 words –

 

Testimony: A Memoir 

Testimony

By Robbie Robertson

Vintage Canada

512 pages

$21.15

Kindle: $16.99

“I was introduced to serious storytelling at a young age, on the Six Nations Reserve. The oral history, the legends, the fables, and the great holy mystery of life. My mother, who was Mohawk and Cayuga, was born and raised there.

“At the age of nine I told my mother that I wanted to be a storyteller when I grew up. She smiled and said, ‘I think you will.’”

Robbie Robertson is another one of those mixed race persons who have decided that their primary identity is to be found in the First Nation side of their genetic heritage.

One wonders what might have happened if Robertson’s biological father, a Jewish professional gambler named Alexander David Klegerman, had lived. But Robertson was still an infant when his father died in a hit and run accident, and he was adopted by his mother’s second husband, James Patrick Robertson. It was only many years later, when that marriage was in trouble, that Robbie learned the truth about his background.

We get clues as to how that night have gone later in the book, when he meets some of his shadier relatives, but this book really begins with 16 year old Robertson heading south from Toronto to Fayetteville, Arkansas, about to try out as a bass player for the Hawks, the backing group for the legendary Rockin’ Ronnie Hawkins. By then, Robertson had been playing in bands since the age of 14, and had worked in a travelling carny circuit for parts of two summers, as well as at the Canadian National Exhibition.

It was the years with the Hawks, though, that would be his major training ground, and the changing composition of that band woiuld move him from the bass to lead guitar, and surround him with most of the individuals that would later become the Band.

We meet them all, one by one, and though the late Levon Helm painted a nasty picture of Robertson in his book about The Band, Robertson can’t say enough positive things about his former band mate. In a touching CBC interview that was recently rebroadcast, Robertson regretted never having been able to patch things up with Helm.

The years with Hawkins were followed by the years with Bob Dylan, for when Dylan decided to go electric, he picked the Hawks as his backing band. Initially the first half of the shows on the tour were vintage Dylan acoustic, and then he would bring out the Hawks. Some people were delighted, but Robertson remembers it as a hard three year (1965-68) tour, and being on the receiving end of a lot of anger.

In 1967, the members of the band relocated to Woodstock, living in the house that would come to known as Big Pink, and that’s where they merged the rockabilly blues of their Hawks years with the folk-rock of the tour and developed the unique sound that would make them into The Band.

First, though, there were the Basement Tapes, which is an interesting section. Imagine Bob Dylan, recovering from his motorcycle accident, upstairs in the house, pounding out lyrics of a typewriter, handing the pages off the group and saying something like lets’ see what we can do with this. The Basement tapes CDs have a lot of minor stuff on them, but they also have “This Wheel’s on Fire”, “You Ain’t Going’ Nowhere”, and “Tears of Rage”, some classic stuff often covered by other people. There were eventually 138 songs.

The story moves on to the group’s first solo album, Music from Big Pink, and the rather offhand way they ended up with that name and the name The Band.

Robertson takes us through the recording of subsequent albums, but it becomes clear in the narrative that some of the guys aren’t having as much fun as they used to without chemical assistance. Not that Robertson abstained; there are numerous tales of this type in the book, though not as many as in Mick Fleetwood’s memoir, which I reviewed here a few months back.

What the two books have in common is that both Robertson and Fleetwood came to feel that they were responsible for keeping their groups together, and that put a strain on the kind of communal energy that had created the Band in the first place.

There’s quite a bit of space devoted to the creation of The Last Waltz, the Martin Scorsese film and 3-LP (you do remember records, right?) that actually became their swan song. Getting the record together was a near thing. The day they were supposed to start working on it at their Shangri-la studio, Robertson got there early, expecting to get to work, By 3:30 that day no one else had shown up.

“Waiting there as the sun went down, it finally hit me – what I had been in denial about: this train we’d been riding so long was pulling into the station, not just for touring, not just for recording, but for everything.”

 

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February 16, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Whitehorse Star, Young Adult.
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Bookends: A Troubled Life in Three Acts

By Dan Davidson

August 2, 2017

– 755 words –

Cut Off 

Cut Off

By Jamie Bastedo

Red Deer Press

338 pages

$12.82

Kindle edition: $7.99

 

“I was born into a family of aliens, and not one of us was from the same planet.”

So writes Indio McCracken to begin part one of his three part journey through some painful teen years. This part of the book picks up his story at the age of 14, with some background filled in before those years.

A prologue at the beginning tells us a bit more, with imagery that hints at what is to come.

“Looking back at seventeen, the memories pour through me like currents in a wild river.”

We will get to the river, but first we find him growing up in Guatemala, the son of a native born K’iche’ woman (a Mayan) and a Scottish-born miner from Calgary, the owner/operator of a gold mine that is bringing both employment and harm to the local people of Xela.

Edgar McCracken is an ambitious man, a hard man, and when he discovers that Indio, even at the age of four, has a talent for playing the guitar, he decides to make him into the next Andre Segovia. He creates a practice room for the boy, gets him lessons, actually locks him in the room for hours each day.

Then, at a special concert, his father records a video of him playing “Flight of the Bumblebee “at eight times its normal speed, and then releases it to the Internet, where it goes viral and make Indio a teen classical guitar sensation. When Indio combines his playing with his surreptitious discovery of blogging, he begins to fumble his way down a path that will lead to a serious cyber addiction.

His comfortable world falls apart as he begins to realize how much harm his dad’s mine is doing. When there’s a serious mine accident and the locals attack the McCracken house compound, the family relocates to Calgary, where mixed blood Indio really doesn’t fit in at all, Harassed by certain bullies at school, he take the more Scottish name of Ian, but he falls into a deep depression.

His mother, meaning well, presents him with an iPhone. Combing that with access to a laptop, Indio dives deeper into cyber-withdrawal. He does create some marvellous musical videos, but his obsession gets him into trouble. One would have to say it results in the death of his beloved dog in a street accident, and puts him in the hospital in serious condition when he texts while driving his father’s car.

Physical recovery is one thing, but his parents decide he needs more than that, and they ship him off to Camp Lifeboat, on the Annie Lake Road, part way to Carcross, where total cyber-isolation and a nature cure are supposed to change his ways.

Bastedo read from this part of the book during his sessions in Whitehorse during the Yukon Writers’ Festival and Young Authors Conference in April. He did field work in that area back in the 1980s, and parlayed those studies into a career writing non-fiction nature books, with such titles as Falling for Snow: A Naturalist’s Journey into the World of Winter, Shield Country: The Life and Times of the Oldest Piece of the Planet, Reaching North: A Celebration of the Subarctic and Blue Lake and Rocky Shores.

As he told me back in April, that focus came to a stop when his children protested.

“When our two daughters were adolescents, they told me, ‘No more books, Daddy, until you write a kids’ book’ That request sparked another shift in my writing, from adult non-fiction (natural history, river guides, hiking guides) into fiction for young readers – and I’ve never looked back!”

Since then, he’s produced Tracking Triple Seven, On Thin Ice, Nighthawk! and, of course, Cut Off.

Aside from being an adventure novel, Cut Off deals with a lot of issues: parental abuse, bullying, racism, international exploitation, various types of addictions, personal responsibility, dysfunctional families, and issues related to the public and private use of electronic devices.

As much as we’d like to sympathize with everything that Indio is gong through, it’s hard to escape realizing that he brings a lot of it on himself.

I don’t know about the paperback version of the book but the Kindle edition has an extensive Q&A session with the author that reveals quite a bit about what inspired the various events in the book.

 

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Bookends: Two Weeks in the High Arctic February 16, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in autobiography, Bookends, current events, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Two Weeks in the High Arctic

By Dan Davidson

August 16, 2017

– 815 words –

 

Boundless: Tracing Land and Dream in a New Northwest

Boundless

By Kathleen Winter

Anansi

280 pages

$22.48

Kindle e-Book

$4.49

In 2010 Kathleen Winter was able to take what turned out to be an epic voyage through the Northwest Passage. Her friend, Noah Richler, had had to bow out of a two week cruise on a Russian icebreaker, for which he was to have been the writer in residence. Would she like to take his place on the Clipper Adventurer?

As it happened, she had been thinking lately about taking chances when they were offered and, on the advice of a friend, had prepared a “go bag”. Not that this particular bag was in no way adequate to a fortnight’s journey to the Arctic Ocean, but it was an indication of her mindset. She said yes.

Just from that introduction, you have probably picked up the idea that this book will not entirely be about the ocean voyage. There’s a lot of self-reflection in the book, memories of her immigrant childhood in Newfoundland; thoughts about her first marriage and how the death of her first husband affected her.

A reviewer in the Guardian newspaper felt that such tidbits of information made this a less than successful travel book, as if there is only one way to do this sort of thing. This is an attitude with which authors like V.S. Naipaul and Paul Theroux would probably take issue. I certainly do.

When I met Winter back in the spring, one of the things she told me was that she felt the need to move around. She’d sat still so long writing her novel, Annabel, that she had actually lost some function in her legs for a while. That explains why, during some of the shore excursions that took place on this trip, she tended to chose the longer walks, and I think it also explains why she was prepared to leave her husband to look after their two daughters for a two week excursion that as it turned out, was not entirely a cakewalk.

It was an assorted group of people on this voyage. Historian Ken McGoogan was there, with his wife, Sheena; anthropologist Kenneth Lister; marine mammal biologist Pierre Richard, with his sister, Elizabeth; geologist Marc St, Onge; ornithologist Richard Knapton; and musician Nathan Rogers, son of Stan, whose best known song (aside from “The Mary Ellen Carter” and “Barrett’s Privateers”) is probably “The Northwest Passage”.

Winter would come to be close to Rogers, would actually overcome her indifference to rocks and pay attention to Knapton, and would learn something from many of the 100 members of the expedition. She seems to remains largely unaffected by the enthusiastic birders, but tries her best to respond to what she can learn from the indigenous people who are part of the voyage. What she learned would often send her back down her memory hole, to tie in to some part of her past.

The trip took them from Greenland, past Baffin Island, and across the passage into territory that was perhaps not quite as well mapped as people had thought. The Clipper Adventurer runs onto some rocks on what was to have been the last night of the trip. Everyone was in the lounge, looking at the map that showed the journey they had taken, the ship being bound for the place where they would disembark.

“The ship lurched.

“It crunched on something big, not like one of the small pieces of ice we’d scraped in Karrat Fjord. This sound kept going: a dreadful, deep displacement of our vessel out of the water, out of her gliding movement, nowhere close to any of the rocking, all smooth and rolling, we’d known before.”

They did the whole abandon ship drill before they decided they weren’t going to sink, but they could not get off that rock, even at high tide.

There had been hints in various chapters that there might be a problem later on, but this was a surprise. They were rescued by the geological mapping vessel, the Amundsen, and taken to Kugluktuk, from whence they were flown south. Their ship was not rescued until three weeks later and had to be towed to a shipyard in Gdansk for repairs.

Winter says she was changed by her experience in the high North, but just how is something she’s doesn’t seem that anxious to share. There are a few things that remain mysterious in this book. For instance, that actual name of their ship is not to be found in the text. I ran a search in my KOBO copy to see, after I finally found it in the photo section at the back of the book.

Boundless was shortlisted for the 2014 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction.

 

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Bookends: Sometimes you can’t trust anybody February 16, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery, thriller, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Sometimes you can’t trust anybody

By Dan Davidson

July 19, 2017

– 810 words –

 

The Girl on the Train

By Paula HawkinsGirl on the Train

Doubleday, Canada

317 pages

$24.95

 

Paula Hawkins’ debut thriller has a deliberately unfocussed title font, set against the kind of blurred background you’d get if you were sitting in a moving vehicle and just letting the scenery flow past your eyes without trying to actually look at it.

That’s very fitting, since Rachel, the most frequent of the three first person women whose lives are revealed to us, has a pretty fuzzy memory. Rachel is the titular “girl” on the train, the train on which she travels to London town every day, past the row of flats where she once lived with her ex-husband, where he now lives with his new wife, Anna and baby girl.

In the same block of flats there lives a couple whose names she doesn’t know, but she calls them Jess and Jason, and imagines what seems to be their perfect life together. Like many of the things she imagines, there’s a large dose of illusion there.

Rachel is the very definition of an unreliable narrator, a type that has become very popular since Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. The narrator may be unreliable, like the married couple in that book, because they are doing it on purpose, or just because they leave things out. In that sense, the first person narrator in Christie’s Murder of Roger Ackroyd is an early example of the type. He leaves out all the things that would allow you to realize he is the murderer.

(I’m surely not spoiling the ending of a book published in 1926.)

Rachel is a nasty blackout drunk, subject to fits of rage and a foggy memory of her actions when she’s been drinking. She is also hiding things, both from us and from the good girl friend with whom she has been living since her marriage to Tom broke up.

“Jess and Jason” are really Megan and Scott, and she is the second narrator in the novel, her segments complicated by the fact that they begin 14 months before Rachel’s and end just a few days after that narrative begins. I admit to being several chapters into the book before I realized there were two different time lines to be aware of.

Megan has a number of secrets in her life that emerge as the story continues. One of her teachers once called her a mistress of reinvention. She reinvents to escape her pain, carried over from past events that are only revealed to the others after she is gone.

Tom went on to marry Anna, who is the third of the narrators in this novel. Anna has had secrets in her time. Indeed, after the beginning of Rachel’s mental and alcohol related breakdown, she became the “other woman” in Tom’s life and helped to bring about the end of their decaying marriage. She’s not entirely secure in her new life, has some difficulties dealing with her baby daughter and isn’t really comfortable in the house where Rachel was once the chatelaine.

The book begins with a significant teaser, as seen by Rachel on her morning commute: “There’s a pile of clothing on the side of the train tracks.”

While it’s not what we think it might be when we learn, later on, that there has probably been a murder, it is a hint that all may not be what it seems, and Rachel’s reaction is revealing.

“My mother used to tell me that I had an overactive imagination. Tom said that too, I can’t help it. I catch sight of those discarded scraps, a dirty T-shirt and a lonesome shoe, and all I can think of is the other shoe, and the feet that fitted into them.”

She’s like that with her views of other peoples’ relationships. She assumes things. She is a troubled soul. She hasn’t been able to let go of Tom in her head and heart, and is still reaching out, nearly two years later. When something seems to be wrong in her vision of “Jess and Jason” and she learns that Megan is missing, she tries to insinuate herself into that situation, convincing herself that she’s trying to help Scott, who is suspected of having killed his wife.

There’s a complicated web of relationships linking Scott, Megan, Tom, Ann and Rachel, and because of the way the story is told, with each narrative sequence related in chronological order, sequences overlap sometimes and we both gain advantage and are misdirected by this device.

This was an engaging novel, and I’m not surprised that it is already a motion picture. Why they moved the setting from London to New York is beyond me, but perhaps it will make sense when I see the film some day.

 

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Bookends: A Thriller about Personal Redemption February 16, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, thriller, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: A Thriller about Personal Redemption

By Dan Davidson

July 5, 2017

– 761 words –

 

Anya Unbound

Anya Unbound

By

Friesen Press

376 pages

$22.99

Sean Carson certainly wasn’t expecting to see a young girl in ragged clothing darting through the bush as he drove back to his rural cabin on the Pike Lake Road near the Teslin River. It was fall, and the light wasn’t that good. At first he wondered if it was a Sasquatch, but when he stopped his truck and she came out of the woods, brandishing a stick as a weapon, he a saw a girl in her mid to late teens, quite banged up and speaking English with a foreign accent.

He coaxed her into his truck and took her to his cabin, where they communicated a little; he helped her clean up, got her something to eat, and eventually settled her in his spare room.

Sean is himself a troubled soul, still recovering from the sudden death of his wife and daughter just a few years earlier while they were at an outfitters’ convention in Las Vegas. Outfitting remains Sean’s business. Though he seems to have lots of money and doesn’t really need to work, he prefers to, so the vehicles and the airplane that play a large part in this story come naturally to him, does all the shopping in the quieter parts of the book.

Anya, for that is the girl’s name, is from Poland, lured to North America by false promises of immigration and a job by a sex trafficking ring, along with a dozen other girls. They were all being transported to Alaska in a semi-trailer rig when Anya, with the help of her good friend, Kaiza, managed to escape. Not long after that, she came across Sean.

Sean already had some familiarity struggling against sex trade operations from his experiences in Cambodia, where he had gone after spending 10 months on a kibbutz in Israel, trying to find some meaning for his life after his loss.

What he found, in his travels, was the rediscovery of his Christian faith. This is a thriller style novel and an adventure. It does deal with the nasty subject I’ve already mentioned, and there’s lots of action, particularly since the sex traders don’t give up easily. What may surprise some readers is the amount of prayer and simple theology that Carruthers has managed to sneak into the story.

I haven’t encountered quite so much of this since the Danny Orlis YA novels I read back in my teens. Bernard Palmer did write some good tales, but he eventually got way too preachy and the stories got buried by the messages. Carruthers doesn’t make that mistake and manages to tread a careful line between spiritual redemption and adventure.

Anya’s captors manage to track her down and recapture her while she is staying with Sean’s lady friend, Reina, in Whitehorse, and this leads Sean on a merry chase that might not have happened otherwise. He ends up freeing all the girls from the slavers temporary base at the abandoned village of Snag, not far from Beaver Creek, and everyone takes refuge with the good (fictional) people who operate the book’s version of the White River Lodge.

There’s a lot in the book: an assault on the Lodge; a mid-winter trek by dogsled; a wedding; a honeymoon in Hawaii; an arrest and serious legal trouble in Alaska; the mechanics of seeking refugee status and new homes for all the kidnapped girls; even a postscript to the main story that covers a decade or two.

The real core of the story, though, is about that “unbinding” referred to in the title. Sean has a lot of issues in his life that are fixed, to some extent, by his crusade on behalf of Anya and the girls, Without Anya’s influence on Sean, the marriage would have taken much longer to occur. Without Reina’s assistance, and the help of Sheila and Sam at the lodge, the girls would never have made the transition from victims to healthy young women so quickly. Most impressive of all is the blossoming of Anya, who becomes the person that this one time Polish orphan would never have dreamed she could be.

So, while this may seem odd in a thriller that features a couple of outright murders and one justifiable homicide, not to mention the bending of a whole lot of national and international laws, this is very much a book about redemption, and it works very well as a story.

 

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Bookends: The Great Lorenzo’s Role of a Lifetime February 16, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Science Fiction, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star.
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Double Star audiobookBookends: The Great Lorenzo’s Role of a Lifetime

By Dan Davidson

June 28, 2017

– 821 words –

 

Double Star

Written by Robert A. Heinlein

Narrated by Tom Weiner

Unabridged Audiobook

5 hrs and 31 mins

Blackstone Audio Inc.

$20.97

 

Print version: 240 pages

Gollancz

$15.99

 

Imagine a world and time when a ham actor of dubious morals could become the leader of an interplanetary government, elected supreme minister to the Emperor of this system.

Oh well, given the current state of affairs south of our border, maybe it’s not such a fantastic idea any more, but it was in the mid 1950s, when Double Star was being serialized as a novel in Astounding Science Fiction, and later published between hard covers and finally in paperback, where small print squeezed 240 pages into the 128 pages that I read back in 1969 and still have on my shelves.

Science fiction fandom was impressed, and voted the book the Hugo Award as best Novel of the year for 1956. It remains a classic and its most recent paperback incarnation was as part of Gollancz’s “SF Masterworks” series.

When we meet Larry Smith (aka the Great Lorenzo) he is on his uppers on Earth, with hardly the price of a cup of coffee to his name. He is engaged by a spacer named Dak Broadbent to serve as a body double for an important man who is indisposed, for mysterious reasons.

As it turns out, the mysterious reason is that John Joseph Bonforte, the former Supreme Minister and leader of the opposition in the Imperial government, has been kidnapped. There is an important ceremony – a nest adoption – on Mars, that Bonforte absolutely has to attend, even if they can’t locate and free him before then.

By the time he knows all of this, Smith is on his way to Mars, having been smuggled off planet, and it’s too late to back out. It’s by appealing to his vanity as an actor that Bonforte’s aides get him to continue, but a funny thing happens.

The more he absorbs his subject, the more he watches videos of him and listens to his speeches, the more he reads about him and tries to copy him, the more he becomes Bonforte.

The Martian ceremony is a success, and not long after that they manage to find the missing man, but the Bonforte they find has been horribly abused and shot full of mind altering drugs. Larry is persuaded to carry on until the great man can recover his wits and health. He continues out of a sense of obligation (a new thing for him) and applies himself to the task by continually asking himself “what would Bonforte do?”

Weiner’s reading of the text was important to my understanding of what was happening to Lorenzo/Larry. When I first heard this first person narrator I didn’t like his voice. It wasn’t my memory of the book which, granted, was 48 years old. Interestingly, the voice changed as Larry did.

Larry learns how to be Bonforte so well that he starts improving on the speeches he’s being handed by his scriptwriters, applying his actor’s sensibility to his increasing knowledge of his subject and model. He does so well in this department that one of his broadcast speeches causes the incumbent government to call for an election and resign, forcing Bonforte’s party to form an interim caretaker government.

As Bonforte has still not recovered – has had a stroke, in fact – Larry is forced to continue with masquerade and does so by being true to his “what would Bonforte do?” dictum.

This leads to some friction within the group and the departure of one member. That man, Bill, becomes a dangerous loose cannon who could expose the entire substitution plot, which had been his idea in the first place. He had expected Larry to continue to be a ventriloquist’s dummy, and when it doesn’t work out that way, when Larry starts questioning his interpretations of the Bonforte legacy, he decides to scuttle the operation. The tension is delicious.

While there’s a thriller aspect to this book, and there is also a political drama, the real story is about a man learning to improve himself more than he ever thought he could, or, as Theodore Sturgeon, Heinlein’s SF contemporary liked to phrase it, this is a story about “a man who learns better.”

The book has a coda, written a quarter century later by the man who lived most of his existence wearing another man’s life, and becoming more like that man with every year. He is unsparing in his assessment of the Great Lorenzo, though he does recognize that without the talents of “that seedy actor” he could never have managed to live up to the task he set himself.

Larry Smith was improved by his elevation to high office and his understanding of what behavior was required to be worthy of it. We could only wish that this would be true of a certain American president.

 

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Bookends: What happens before and after the death of Evelyn Peterson February 16, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: What happens before and after the death of Evelyn Peterson

By Dan Davidson

July 26, 2017

– 744 words –

 

Pontoon: A Novel of Lake Wobegon

Written by Garrison KeillorPontoon

Narrated by Garrison Keillor

Unabridged Audiobook

8 hrs and 22 mins

Highbridge, a division of Recorded Books

Print edition: 256 pages

Faber & Faber

Also available as an eBook

Garrison Keillor retired from his stint with The Prairie Home Companion radio show about a year ago, but he has been busy in other formats for some time, writing essays, short stories, political commentary and advice columns for a number of magazines, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, National Geographic, and Salon.

He has also written novels, including 10 about the fictional community of Lake Wobegon, which was the subject of most of the monologues on his radio show. There are 11 other books not so connected to this place, and three volumes of poetry.

Pontoon is very much a Lake Wobegon book, the inciting event being the death of Evelyn Peterson, who has an civilized argument with the Angel of Death, a friendly spirit who came to collect her, just because it was time, dear.

The novel revolves around Evelyn’s life and its aftermath, telling the life stories of many of the people – friends, relatives and lovers – who were connected to her over the years.

For Evelyn there’s a lot to tell. Aside from her reputation as a Lutheran Church attending pillar of the community, she had a whole secret life that no one in town knew about, a life that began to develop after she assisted her ne-er do well husband in leaving the marriage and going to live in a shack in the bush.

This, by the way, was something he wanted to do, so it wasn’t as if she was cruel, and she helped to support him in this lifestyle until the day he dropped dead outside the barber shop, years later. Yes, we get his life story too.

Daughter Barbara is the one who finds Evelyn in bed in the morning after she dies. Barbara is way too fond of various brands of alcohol and is pretty much pooched by the time the ambulance arrives to take her mother away.

Evelyn’s sister is horrified by the revelation of Evelyn’s funeral instructions. Her ashes (What? Cremation?) are to be placed inside a bowling ball and dropped into the lake. This develops into a plan for Barbara’s son, Kyle, to carry the ashes over the lake with his parasailing outfit and drop them in the middle.

Kyle is at university, discovering that he needs to get away from the woman he’s been living with most of the year, and so this is a grand excuse for him to take off. Of course, we learn ore about his life too.

One of the longest connected stories is that of Debbie Delmar, who fled her stodgy home town in her late teems and made her fortune as an animal therapist for the rich and famous in California. She has a wedding planned. We get her life story and enough of the biography of her fiancée to know this is never going to work out. She intends her (not really a) wedding to take place on the lake in a ceremony that will involve a pontoon boat (hence the book’s title) and the parachuting arrival of a Elvis impersonator.

If you’re thinking that the lake might be getting crowded, we’re not done yet.

Add the arrival of a group of unorthodox Danish Lutheran ministers, who are stopping by Lake Wobegon on their tour of the U.S., sent there by the Danish church to get them out of the way after they issued a problematic manifesto on the irrelevance of God. We don’t see much of them, but by the time they get on the boat in the harbour, have a few glasses of the champagne left over from Debbie’s cancelled wedding plans (didn’t I tell you?), and manage to untie the boat they are having their liquid lunch on, I think you can see where all this is going to end up.

The various strands of this novel are slow to weave into a whole, but the individual threads, narrated in Keillor’s laconic deadpan delivery, are so funny, and sometimes so spot on in terms of observations about life, that you really don’t mind waiting to see where it all is going.

 

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Bookends: The answers to this mystery are deep in the past February 15, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery, thriller, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: The answers to this mystery are deep in the past

By Dan Davidson

June 22, 2017

– 728 words –

 

The Last Mile

The Last Mile

By David Baldacci

Narrated by Kyf Brewer and Orlagh Cassidy

11 hrs and 49 mins

Audible Download

$30.79

Paperback edition

464 pages

Grand Central Publishing

$7.89

IN the first of the Amos Decker series of mysteries, Memory Man, we met Amos, whose football injury had altered his brain to give him a perfect memory (Hyperthymesia) and synesthesia (cross connections between sensory inputs). Amos had been a police detective until the murders of his wife, daughter and brother-in-law had forced him into a deep depression. When we met him he was a down and out private eye, scraping the bottom of the client barrel.

The opportunity to solve the murders for which he had once been a suspect, and the introduction of a couple of new people into his life, reinvigorated him and set him on a path to being hired as a special consultant for an FBI cold case task force, along with Alexandra Jamison and team leader Special Agent Ross Bogart.

Book two picks up the story with Amos on his way to Quantico, where he will be working. He hears an item on the radio about convicted murderer Melvin Mars, who is scheduled to hang in a few days time. Mars is another football player who played against Decker in college and he is intrigued.

There are so many similarities between the Mars case and his own life that it just seems like fate is pushing him to look into it. Amos hates coincidences.

We have already met Mars by this point, since the first chapter, told from a slightly different time frame, introduced us to him very personally on what was to have been his last day of life. We know he is innocent and that he has been incarcerated for nearly 20 years.

We went back in time to get to Decker’s narrative. He does some quick research and brings the Mars’ case to the team after demolishing the rationale for the case that they had been assigned to, much to the annoyance of one of his more rule bound team mates, who resents the presence of these new non-agency personnel in an agency operation.

The team manages to get Mars’ execution postponed and begins the process of finding out what actually happened, This is complicated by the fact that another murderer, in another prison, suddenly confesses to the murder just prior to his own execution. It is further complicated by an attempt by some guards in Mars’ prison to arrange for his murder by a couple of other inmates. Mars is released under the supervision of the FBI team, then pardoned, then rearrested after Decker’ investigation reveals that the other confession was bought and paid for by persons unknown.

This raises a number of important questions. Who really murdered Mars’ parents all those years ago? Who were his parents, really? Why were they keeping such a low profile anyway? What did the fact that Mars was becoming a famous college football player with enormous prospects have to do with their deaths?

And that’s all I’m going to tell you. Read or listen to it for yourself if you’re curious.

Baldacci writes books with a lot of dialogue in them and with strong male and female characters. Brewer and Cassidy do a great job of dealing with the main characters and the supporting cast. It doesn’t require them to do a lot of voice changes. They manage with pitch and subtle shifts in regional accents, and it’s always clear who is talking.

The balance of contributions to the case is quite even. Decker brings his memory and years of work as a detective. Jamison was a relatively new reporter when she first met him, but she has great instincts, a way of reading people that he doesn’t (a side effect of his brain injury) and a dedication to truth as fixed as Decker’s.

While there is a lot of talking in this story, and a lot of internal reflection of Decker’s part, there is also a lot of action and suspense. It is a page turner of a book, or in my case, a story that really kept me from thinking about the many kilometres in my most recent trip to the city and back.

 

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