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Bookends: One Night of the Innkeeper’s Tale December 31, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Klondike Sun, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: One Night of the Innkeeper’s Tale

By Dan Davidson

May 16, 2018

– 950 words –

 

The Name of the Wind

By Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the WindDAW Books

722 pages

$11.99

 

“My name is Kvothe.” (pronounced like “quoth)

“I have stolen princesses back from the sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

“You may have heard of me.”

Indeed, the man called the Chronicler has heard of Kvothe, and has been trying to track him down to make some sense of the many and conflicting stories that are told about the man.

The last place he expected to find him, though some obscure signs did point him in that direction, was as the owner and barkeeper at the Waystone Inn, hiding in plain sight under the name of Kote.

We begin this tale at the inn, where locals are sitting around listening to the tales told by old men. Kote does his duty and seems unremarkable.

We move then to the road that leads to the village where the Chronicler has been set upon by thieves, who have robbed him of most of his worldly goods and his horse, thus making his journey more difficult. Not long after, one of those thieves, horribly mangled, staggers into the Waystone, followed by a type of metallic spider monster that needs killing and burning.

Later, Kote dispatches a number of these creatures out in the forest, saving the Chronicler in the process and more or less revealing himself to be something more than an innkeeper.

When the Chronicler, who seeks refuge at the inn, finally works up the nerve to demand his story, Kote, somewhat encouraged by his assistant, who turns out to be a alien, regardless of how he may appear, agrees to tell it to him. He stipulates that it must take three days, that the Chronicler must record it exactly as he speaks it, and nothing must be added or subtracted.

This book is the part of the tale that was told on the first day.

Kvothe was born to a troupe of travelling players, actors and musicians, and his life as such is recalled as being idyllic until the day that everyone except him is slaughtered by a group of beings called the Chandrian, about whom his father has made the mistake of collecting lore and weaving it into a song. During those early years Kvothe was tutored by a magician who instilled in him the desire to learn more of the arcane ways of the world, to attend the University, and to do things like learning the name of the wind.

Following the slaughter, Kvothe managed to stay alive, living first as a scavenger in the forest, and later in the city of Tarbean where he was one of the begging, thieving classes of children. In both cases, he acquired skills that would later serve him well.

Years passed, and he managed, by one means and another, to put together enough money to get him to Imre, the city where the University was. Here, his life moved from being one of Dickensian squalor to the narrative of a young man at magic school. It’s still a tough life, but nothing like his years living on the streets, and he has a series of small triumphs, not the least of which was bluffing his way into the University in the first place, displaying a breadth of knowledge and wit that he looked too young – was too young – to have acquired.

He made friends; he made some enemies; he pursued clandestine research into the nature of the beings who had killed his parents and extended family. He found the love of his life (that part, any way) and had an unusual relationship with her, one that eventually led to an adventure far from the University where, no matter how bad he felt about doing it, he had to kill a dragon.

Kvothe is not yet out of his teens at this point in the telling, and there is much left to be said, but the book does leave us in a comfortable place, anticipating more, but willing to wait.

The whole thing will be called The Kingkiller Chronicles, and the main narrative is supposed to take three books, one for each day of the telling.

Book one, the title of which refers to a type of magic, appeared in 2007 and is already considered special enough to have a deluxe, illustrated, 10 year anniversary edition. Book two, The Wise Man’s Fear, appeared in 2011. A small volume about one of the secondary characters, under 200 pages in length, called The Slow Regard of Silent Things, appeared in 2014. So far there’s no word on the progress of the third day’s narrative.

I have Day 2, but I’m reluctant to read it and then have to wait for the finale. George R.R. Martin has made us all reluctant to have to delay our gratification.

There is certainly an underlying base of fantasy in Rothfuss’ work, but it reminds me somewhat more of the writing of Guy Gavriel Kay, in which the fantasy elements are implied more often than they are explicit.

Rothfuss is, at any rate, the best new voice I have encountered for this sort of work in some time, and I look forward to reading more of his stories.

 

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Bookends: The many ways to look at revival December 31, 2018

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Bookends: The many ways to look at revival

By Dan Davidson

May 23, 2018

– 959 words –

 

Revival

By Stephen KingRevival

480 pages

Pocket Books

$9.99

Kindle e-book

$7.98

 

Some of Stephen King’s novels take place in a matter of hours; some span years. Revivalcovers the best part of a life, beginning when our narrator, Jamie Morton, is just a small boy, on the day that he first meets the Reverend Charles Jacobs, whose shadow falls over him for the first time while he is playing with toy soldiers in the dirt

This is the beginning of the novel, and the first phase of two lives that will ebb and flow around each other for decades. Jamie refers to Jacobs as his Fifth Business, a reference to the novel of that name by Robertson Davies, a writer King has praised in his own work. I believe it was The Tommyknockerswhere he devoted what must have been five or six pages to what amounted to an enthusiastic review of one of Davies’ novels.

It’s a theatrical term, defined by Davies as “Those roles which, being neither those of Hero nor Heroine, Confidante nor Villain, but which were nonetheless essential to bring about the Recognition or the denouement, were called the Fifth Businessin drama and opera companies …”

It’s uncertain just how to classify Charles Daniel Jacobs. If his wife and son had not been killed in that horrible accident at the end of the first part of the novel would he have continued to be the deeply religious man, with a bit of an obsessive interest in electricity, that he seemed to be in those early chapters. Or, was there always something about him that would have led him down what became a very dark path.

Fairly early in the book, Jacob cures Jamie’s brother, Con, from the inexplicable loss of his voice that follows a skiing accident. It is only after that, that the minister suffers the loss his family and his faith, and delivers the Terrible Sermon that sends him on his way to another life.

Life goes on for Jamie as well. There’s a delightful first love story that takes him all the way through high school while, at the same time, he falls in love with rock and roll and takes the first steps towards the life of a travelling musician. That turns sour after his own accident introduces him to the life of a drug addict, and it is only after he has hit rock bottom playing for country band that he meets Jacobs again.

By this time, Jacobs has revived himself as a carny act, and has furthered his interest in the “secret electricity”, which he uses to cure Jamie of both his pain and his addiction. So far he still seems to be a good Samaritan, if a bit of a con man.

Thanks to him, Jamie scores a job with the owner of a recording studio and revives (notice how much use King has made of his title?) his own life as a successful producer and sometime session player.

Jacobs’ next revival is as a faith healer, using his secret method, along with some placebo carny tricks, to build up a tent ministry and social media following, through which he becomes wealthy. But something’s wrong. Jamie has experienced some minor side effects from his cure and, while most of the cures seem to work out well, a bit of research proves to him that this is not always the case. Some have been disasters.

This is where what has seemed to be a mundane but interesting novel about a life begins to go dark, leading to a terrifying conclusion which is the result of Jacobs’ experiments, the side effects of his cures, and the Lovecraftian horrors to which he almost manages to open the dimensional doors. He wanted to find out what was in store for people after they died.The answer, if it really is the answer, is not at all satisfactory.

Stephen King often works bits of his own life into his work. After his confessions in his book about writing, he has often included the theme of addiction. Since the hit and run incident that nearly left him crippled, a number of his characters have suffered injuries as a result of accidents.

That said, I think that Revivalis the first time that he’s made use of his love of music to this extent. He has, at various times over a two decade period, been a member of the Rock Bottom Remainders, a group of writers who also like to dabble in classic rock and roll. Their name is a bookstore pun. Its members have included Dave Barry, Amy TanCynthia HeimelSam BarryRidley PearsonScott TurowJoel SelvinJames McBrideMitch AlbomRoy Blount, Jr.Barbara KingsolverRobert FulghumMatt Groening, Tad Bartimus, Greg Iles. They’ve played a lot of charity gigs and have been joined on stage by such real musicians as Al Cooper, Roger McGuinn, Warren Zevon and Bruce Springsteen.

As far as Wikipedia knows, the group’s last performance was in 2015. Where Revivalgets kind of personal is when Jamie Morton tells us about the set lists that his various cover bands tend to follow. It contains a lot of the material that the Remainders use. Jamie himself is a fair to middlin’ rhythm guitarist, which has been King’s position in the band.

I did not like the ending of this book. Revival’speek into the afterlife is even more bleak and nasty than the one Philip Pullman gave us in the His Dark Materials trilogy, Despite that, I enjoyed the book as a whole and can recommend it.

 

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Bookends: A Protégé of Sherlock Strikes Out on his Own December 31, 2018

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Bookends: A Protégé of Sherlock Strikes Out on his Own

By Dan Davidson

May 9, 2018

–  886 words –

The Irregular

The Irregular: A Different Class of Spy

By H.B Lyle

Kindle Edition

$15.49

Print Length: 301 pages

Hodder & Stoughton

 

Sherlock Homes remains one of the most durable literary creation of the 19th century, his continuing popularity evidenced by what seems to be the annual appearance of yet another collection of pastiche short stories by dozens of different authors and a list of novels and collections that ran to several pages the last time I tried to pin it down.

Then, of course, there is the BBC series of TV mini-movies featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, and set in our time. How odd that in both the original and the upgrade it is still possible for Doctor Watson to have received his war wound in Afghanistan.

Then there are the fairly bohemian period piece films featuring Robert Downie Junior, of which there is to be a third; and the television show Elementary (now in its sixth season) which has brought a fellow named Holmes into the 21st century and moved him to New York.

Continuing the character is one way to work with the formula. Pitting Holmes against the Invisible Man, Mr., Hyde, Dracula, the Martian Invasion and other tricks have been tried. He was even teamed up with Tarzan in one pastiche novel.

Another way is to take secondary characters from the Holmes canon and work with them. The late John Gardener wrote several novels from the point of view of Professor Moriarity, Holmes’ great enemy.

H.B. Lyle has begun a series using yet another secondary character, one who was first introduced to us in the very first novel, when there is a thundering of many footsteps on the stairs leading up to the apartment at 221-B Baker Street. Watson announces his bewilderment.

“’What on earth is this?’ I cried, for at this moment there came the pattering of many steps in the hall and on the stairs, accompanied by audible expressions of disgust upon the part of our landlady.

“’It’s the Baker Street division of the detective police force,’ said my companion gravely; and as he spoke there rushed into the room half a dozen of the dirtiest and most ragged street Arabs that ever I clapped eyes on.” From A Study in Scarletby Arthur Conan Doyle.

Their leader is the oldest one of them, a young teenager named Wiggins. Both he and others, most of whom are nameless, appear in several other stories and novels, and the device has been considered worthy of inclusion in some version in each of the current media incarnations of Holmes. They are called the Baker Street Irregulars, or just the Irregulars.

And now you know why Lyle’s novel has that title.

It’s 1909 and Wiggins is in his 30s, having grown up and spent a long stint in the army, a very basic career choice for lower class young men as the 19th century drew to a close. Britain pretty much dominates the world at this point, but there are revolutionary winds blowing in Russia; there’s an arms race with Germany; and the world is beginning to lurch towards that conflict which will initially be called The Great War.

Lower class Wiggins hasn’t been able to do well for himself since being demobbed. He’s been reduced to being a collection agent for a loan shark, which pretty much means strong-arming  and shaking down people who haven’t made their payments, people with who he would naturally be in sympathy.

He is approached by a friend of Holmes named Vernon Kell, who wants to set up a secret service to help protect the Empire. He needs men (mostly) who are smart, capable of fighting, and who can blend in with the lower classes. Holmes, who appears only briefly in this book, has recommended Wiggins as a prime candidate.

Kell is anxious to prove to his arrogant political masters that such a force is actually needed. They can’t begin to see why there could possibly be any threat to the Empire. He needs capable people who can establish that such threats exist.

Wiggins turns down the job at first, saying he “don’t do official”, but when a policeman friend of his is murdered by Russian anarchists, leaving that man’s family destitute, Wiggins signs up as a way to work on finding his friend’s killers. While his official assignment has him working undercover at a munitions factory that seems to be leaking information to the Germans, he is able to use his position to build up a string of informants and allies that help him to solve more than just his official case.

He’s an irregular sort of agent who creates his own group of irregulars, following in the footsteps, and using the methods of, his mentor, the Great Detective. Not that he doesn’t have all sorts of problems with his upper class superiors, but he does get the job done.

Interviews with Lyle indicate that he used quite a few real people (Kell being one) in the book and did a lot of research to get the period right. There’s a second book under way and the first has been optioned to be produced as a mini-series.

 

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Bookends: a fantastical collection of material December 29, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Klondike Sun, Science Fiction, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: a fantastical collection of material

By Dan Davidson

April 11, 2018

Dreadful Young Ladies

– 615 words –

 

Dreadful Young Ladies and other stories

By Kelly Barnhill

Algonquin Books

304 pages

$34.95

 

Kelly Barnhill ended this collection of eight short stories and one novella (115 pages) with an acknowledgements section that had one of the most heartfelt appreciations of the act of reading that I have seen in a long time.  Here it is.

“It should be noted that I am, always and forever, in a state of awe and gratitude for the fact that there are readers in the world. There is, at its center, something immutably miraculous about the substance and process of reading stories. We read because we hunger to know, to empathize, to feel, to connect, to laugh, to fear, to wonder, and to become, with each page, more than ourselves. To become creatures with souls.

“We read because it allows us, through force of mind, to hold hands, touch lives, speak as another speaks, listen as another listens, and feel as another feels. We read because we wish to journey forth together. There is, despite everything, a place for empathy and compassion and rumination, and just knowing that fact, for me, is an occasion for joy.

“That we still, in this frenetic and bombastic and self-centered age, have legions of people who can and do return to the quietness of the page, opening their minds and hearts, again and again, to the wild world and stuff of life, pinned into scenes and characters, sharp images and pretty sentences – well. It sure feels like a miracle doesn’t it? I thank you, readers, and I salute you. With an open heart and a curious mind, I, too, return to the page. Let us hold hands and journey forth.”

Barnhill, who is a past winner of the World Fantasy Award (for The Unlicensed Magician, the long piece in this collection) and the Newbery Medal for The Girl Who Drank the Moon). is probably better known for her books for younger readers. On her website she posts she is “a former teacher, former bartender, former waitress, former activist, former park ranger, former secretary, former janitor and former church-guitar-player.”

A lot of the stories in this collection are about relationships. There’s the widow who marries a sasquatch; a series of letters linking a narrative about a failed marriage; the story of a girl who fell in love with poetry; a tale of four dreadful young ladies; an adventure in taxidermy; an elegy to a persecuted and marvellous young woman; a fractured fairy tale with transformations; a debate between two scientists, neither of them quite normal; finally, the story of the magical girl that almost no one can see.

These are an odd bunch of stories. I’m left with the impression that the writer is playing with forms of story telling and trying different things to see how they work out. I found the longer works the most satisfying and liked the novella best of all.

Various reviewers have compared her work to that of Neil Gaiman and, reaching quite a ways back, to the late Ray Bradbury. I think both references are apt, as both writers, in their times and in different ways, tinker with the stuff of fantasy and faerie and make it their own, as she does. She doesn’t make references to any particular source material, but it lurks under the surface of all these works.

Her website, https://kellybarnhill.wordpress.com, is full of interesting musings not unlike the bit that I quoted so extensively at the beginning of this essay. Browsing among her blog posts makes me want to read more of her books, so I probably will.

 

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Bookends: A Shapeshifting Love Story December 29, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Klondike Sun, Whitehorse Star, Young Adult.
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Bookends: A Shapeshifting Love Story

By Dan Davidson

March 27, 2018Medicine Road

– 836 words –

 

Medicine Road

By Charles de Lint

Illustrations by Charles Vess

Tachyon Publications

186 pages

$21.95

 

Since Ottawa based de Lint is himself a poet, songwriter, performer and folklorist as well as being the author of over 65 books, and the winner of the World Fantasy Award (among others), it’s no surprise that two of the central characters in this fantasy novel would be travelling musicians.

The Dillard twin sisters, Laurel and Bess, were introduced to readers in a book called Seven Wild Sisters, which, being a de Lint book, is not at all what the title sounds like it might be. It happens that this was their introduction to the world of faerie, so when some strange things happen in the present book, they’re not totally in shock, even though this series of events is quite different.

The story actually begins with two unhappy Native American spirits, Jim Changing Dog and Alice Corn Hair, who were originally a red dog and a jackalope. In some versions of Native mythology individuals can have both human and animal characteristics, with the ability to shift back and forth between forms.

Red Dog and Jackalope do not have this ability until it is granted to them by Coyote Woman (whose human, or “five fingered” form, is known as Corinna). She gives them a 100-year deadline to find their true loves, or have their shapeshifting ability revoked.

For Alice, this is not a problem. Years ago she found a human artist named Thomas and they have had a fine life together, though there is the strain of knowing that he is subject to mortal aging while she is not.

Jim, on the other hand, has never had a problem connecting with females. It’s just that nothing ever hit him like a ton of bricks until he met Laurel, and he only has a couple of weeks to establish a relationship, tell her who (or what) he really is, and see if she can accept him on those terms.

We already know, from the experience of a snake/woman named Ramona, that such acceptance can be difficult, and perhaps disappointing. Ramona, embittered by that failed relationship in her life, does her best to spoil the bonding between Jim and Laurel. But there are actually are no villains in this novel, which is essentially a love story; it’s just that sometimes people (and other beings) make mistakes and don’t behave as well as they should. Ideally, they learn better.

De Lint has used a lot of these ideas before, most especially in his urban fantasy books set in the city of Newford (which is a North American city that bears some resemblance to Ottawa). It’s also pretty common for him to move characters around from book to book, and some of the Newford people are referenced here, even though they don’t appear.

The Dillard sisters originate in the northern part of Appalachia but here they are touring as a bluegrass/traditional folk duo, doing a series of small pub and home routes style concert gigs in the American southwest. It is during one of these that they meet Jim, Alice and Corinna, and strange things begin to happen.

De Lint likes to use multiple points of view in his work. Bess’s and Laurel’s chapter segments are given to us as first person narratives, while all the other major characters (Alice, Jim and Ramona) are given to us in the third person. We see Corinna only though the eyes of the others.

In de Lint’s mystical cosmography there is a closer association between the various orders of creation than we are perhaps used to. Animals have a touch of humanity and people have links to the animals. It is Corinna’s special gift to be able to enhance that connection if there are certain qualities and a willingness to find that link in the individual.

A century ago she had seen that Red Dog and Jackalope could be more than predator and prey. With the Dillard twins she senses a connection to another form that would certainly never be revealed by checking Ancestry.com, or any of those DNA testing services. There is a need to bring out the deer in the girls if she is to be able to play cupid the way she intends to.

Accessing these changes involves a bit of interdimensional travel. There are realities beyond ours that shape shifters can visit, and various parts of this book take place in two of those higher planes.

In addition to the amount of detailed description in this book, it is graced with 16 illustrations by World Fantasy and Eisner Award winning artist Charles Vess.

Earlier editions of the author’s book bios mention that he spent some of his time in the Yukon when he was very young, as his father worked for a survey firm and they moved around a lot. More current versions just refer to Western Canada.

 

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Bookends:  A Tale with two timelines December 29, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, Whitehorse Star, Young Adult.
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Bookends:  A Tale with two timelines

By Dan Davidson

March 21, 2018

– 785 words –

 

The Emperor of Any PlaceEmperor of any place

By Tim Wynne-Jones

Kindle Edition

$9.02

Candlewick Press

336 pages

$23.99

 

The story begins trapped in memory.

“Evan stands at the door to his father’s study. There is a sign at eye level: THE DOCKYARD. It was a present he gave to his father at Christmas, made of cork so that if the house sank, at least the sign would still float. Their little joke.

“He raises his hand to knock— a habit he can begin to unlearn. So much of grief is unlearning. He opens the door, steps inside, and takes a shallow breath, afraid of what might be lingering on the air. But there are only the old familiar smells: Royal Lime aftershave, glue, sawdust.

“This is where he found him.”

His father had died, suddenly, unexpectedly, 14 days earlier, leaving teenage Evan an orphan, and more than a little adrift in the world, living in the home to which they had given the name Any Place.

His father was reading a hand-bound yellow book when he died. It’s the diary of a Japanese soldier who was stranded on a small Pacific island during World War II. Soon, Evan is immersed so deeply in this book that it feels to him as if he has been transported there.

In fact, that’s just what the novel does, moves us into the translated first person narrative of Isamu Ōshiro’slife, written as if it is a letter to the wife he left to go to war for the Emperor. He is the only survivor of a fierce assault on a nearby island and washes up on his refuge quite by accident.

Later, he is joined there by an American named Derwood Kraft, the only survivor of a downed troop supply plane. Eventually they meet each other, two Robinson Crusoes who reach a kind of accommodation in spite of being on opposite sides of the war. It is Kraft who has had possession of the journal for all these years, has translated it, and has added his own chapters to help the reader make sense of what is going on.

In the present day, Evan spends much of his time mourning the death of his father, and trying to cope with the conflict inherent in the arrival of his grandfather, retired soldier, Griff. The two have never met, since Clifford E. Griffin III and Clifford E. Griffin II have been estranged his entire life. Evan has grown up in Canada, where he father went to avoid America’s military culture. They are oil and water, and seem to have no way of communicating. Each is mourning in his own way.

Compared to what is happening on the island, the present day story is rather bland. The island, you see, has ghosts. Well, not exactly. There are two kinds. Some seem to be the spirits of those who have not yet been born and they are protective and kind. This becomes crucial later on, in several important ways.

There are a lot of dead bodies on the island, and Ōshiro, inspired by a kindness he saw an American GI perform during the assault on the other island, has set himself the task of giving them all proper burials. That’s when he discovers what he first thinks of as carnivorous spirits picking away at the corpses. He eventually calls these “jikininki” and thinks of them as zombies. If takes him awhile to understand that what they are after is the remnants of human memory that exists for awhile in the brains of the dead.

On top of that, there is some kind of creature roaming the jungle which threatens the safety of the two men. Part of their uneasy bonding is the need to develop some protection against this tengu (a type of demon in Buddhist mythology).

This is an odd book to experience, shifting back and forth in time as it does, with each of the two narratives ending in cliff-hangers that keep you wanting to get to the next segment of that particular story.

One review that I read suggested that there are two books struggling to coexist between these covers, and that the historical narrative overpowers the present day one. I think I’d have to agree with that assessment.

But they are stitched together as the book reaches its conclusion, and I wasn’t as disappointed with the ending as the reviewer in Quill and Quireseems to have been. Wynne-Jones wanted to have Evan and his grandfather reconcile and find a way to move forward as the book ends, and I think he managed to do that.

 

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Bookends: This detective has a ghostly companion December 28, 2018

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Bookends: This detective has a ghostly companion

By Dan Davidson

February 13, 2018

– 612 words –

 

A test of Wills

A Test of Wills

By Charles Todd

Kindle Edition

Print Length 323 pages

Publisher:William Morrow

 

Detectives frequently have a side-kick, someone who follows them about and occasionally contributes a gem of insight by thinking outside the normal boxes. No partnership is quite so intense as that between Inspector Ian Rutledge and Corporal Hamish MacLeod. MacLeod, you see, is dead, and is merely a voice in Rutledge’s shell-shocked head.

The Corporal served under Rutledge during the Great War, and the detective feels himself to be entirely responsible for the man’s death at the Battle of the Somme, for reasons that are partly explained in this first book. Subsequent to his mental and emotional breakdown after his discharge, Rutledge found himself with a constant companion, one who was likely to offer his own thoughts on situations unprompted, in his distinctly Scottish tones.

Hamish always seems to be looking over Ian’s shoulder, In fact when he is driving, Hamish cane be heard from the back seat.

Post-war Rutledge has lost some of his ability to interact with people, this exacerbated by his fiancée’s inability to adjust to his changes. Jean’s desertion further undermines his confidence in his ability to deal with others. Interestingly, Hamish’s voice turns out to be a keen observer of other people and often manages to contribute to Rutledge’s deficiencies in this area.

Rutledge was some months recovering sufficiently to return to his duties at Scotland Yard after the war, but there he has a mixed reception. As a bona fide war hero with medals to his credit, there are some at the Yard who look on him favourably. His immediate supervisor, Chief Superintendent Bowles,is not one of those. He is aware of Rutledge’s medical issues, sees only his deficiencies, is jealous of his reputation as a hero, and schemes to assign him to cases where he might fail, hoping that he will, and becoming more antagonistic when he succeeds.

This first novel in the series, which was nominated for a number of mystery awards, sees Rutledge assigned to investigate the murder of an army colonel, with a young captain as the prime suspect. Part of sending him out of London to Warwickshire is that Bowles knows he will be out of his comfort zone there.

Then, the main suspect has ties to the Royal Family, which makes this a very tricky case, and the only witness to events is hardly a credible fellow; a drunken ex-soldier suffering from his own version of shell shock.

The local villagers think very little of the man, and have a low opinion of military men in general. Rutledge has been dropped into a hostile environment and instructed to solve a difficult case as quickly as possible.

Charles Todd is an interesting nom de plumefor a mother and son partnership between Charles and Caroline Todd, who live, as so many of these writers of British mysteries seem to, in the United States. They visit the United Kingdom frequently, as many of these writers appear to do. They have produced twenty books in this series, which they began in 1996.  According to their website, the novels follow a timeline which begins in June, 1919, and continues, month by month, from there on.

The volume I’m reading from happens to be a four book e-book omnibus. It appeared to be the first four books in the series, but now that I’ve looked further into the writers’ website, it turns out that it’s not. I’ve enjoyed the first three mysteries in this collection, and I’ll write up the others sometime in the future.

 

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Bookends: They didn’t mean to hurt anybody December 28, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, mystery, thriller, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: They didn’t mean to hurt anybody

By Dan Davidson

February 7, 2018

– 838 words –

 

The Professionals

By Professionals copy

Putnam

372 pages

$27.50 hardcover

$12.99 paperback

 

 

Owen Laukkanen has been very busy over the last five years. There have been six books in his Stevens and Windemere series of mysteries. He’s been nominated for a slew of awards, won a couple and has graduated to full time writing after spending a number of years covering international poker games for a website called PokerListings.com.

In a way, his life story up to that point was a bit similar to that of the likeable villains in his first novel. His degree in creative writing from UBC wasn’t getting him anywhere in the world and he lucked onto the job writing about poker, a game about which he knew almost nothing when he started.

The merry band of kidnappers in this book started out in much the same place. They had degrees and debt and no hope of employment beyond being baristas at franchise coffee joints. They weren’t lucky enough to land a job writing about poker tournaments and travelling all over the world on the company dime.

Then one of them had a bright idea. Why not use the research skills they had to pick safe low level targets, kidnap them without actually ever hurting anyone, and operate so far below the radar that no one ever notices.

They saw themselves as modern day Robin Hoods, taking from the rich and giving to the poor, which just happened to be themselves. It would work out fine if they just remained professional about it.

For two years it did work out fine, and the four accumulated quite a bank account. They were slick, moved from state to state, picked mid-level wealthy marks who could afford a moderate ransom, and never hurt anybody.

Then, one of their carefully selected targets fell through, and since they had their plan for the area all set up, they went to the alternate choice, and it turned out that, although he looked pretty safe, they hadn’t looked deep enough. His wife was connected to organized crime.

Then, the mark heard one of their names, and their strong-arm man, who’d been getting little too much into the role of being a bad guy, shot him.

To back up just a little, the caper just before that hadn’t gone quite as planned, Usually, the marks were totally embarrassed and kept quiet about what had happened. That victim went to the police after he was freed. The case landed on the desk of state police investigator Kirk Stevens, whose instincts told him that this crime had been just a little too slick to be the first one.

Looking for others that might resemble it took him across state lines and involved the FBI, who gave the case to Carla Windermere.

About that time, the gang killed their latest victim, in yet another state, and the game was afoot.

Stevens is a family man with a wife and kids. She supports his police work, but she has a career of her own to nurture. Up to now, he hasn’t had to travel a lot. This case puts some strain on the dynamic of their marriage.

Windermere has an underemployed partner in a common-law relationship, which is pretty much coming apart at the seams.

The two agents are quite different people, something underlined by him being white and her black. What they do have in common is a love of the chase. Both have been feeling under appreciated in their respective jobs. There is a definite attraction between them, but neither one of them gives into it, at least, not in this first book.

We spend as much time with the kidnappers as we do with the authorities, Of the four – Pender (the planner), Sawyer (the muscle), “Mouse” (the hacker) and Marie (good on details) – we get to know Pender and Marie the most. They are presented quite sympathetically and we like them, but we feel for them as we watch them skip down that well known road to hell that is paved with good intentions.

We know this is not going to end well, and yet we wish it somehow could.

There is a third perspective on all of this, which makes it possible for us to spend some energy rooting for the kidnappers. They didn’t mean to hurt anyone, but the mob hired hit man who is sent to get them, in an investigation that parallels the official one, really is a bad guy, and means to misbehave is serious ways.

It’s acceptable for us to prefer the kidnappers to him and his cohort of killers.

If you’re trying to figure out just where this Vancouver based writer might fit in your library, he has impressive list of cover blurbs from other people who work this genre, including Steve Berry, Jonathan Kellerman, John Lescroart, John Sandford and Lee Child. There aren’t often that many for a first novel.

 

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Bookends: What the Rest of Canada Doesn’t Understand about the North December 28, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, current events, Klondike Sun, News, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: What the Rest of Canada Doesn’t Understand about the North

By Dan Davidson

January 31, 2018

– 848 words –

Hunting the Northern Character 

Hunting the Northern Character

By Tony Penikett

Purich Books (UBC Press)

336 pages

$34.95

 

“Canadian politicians, like many of their circumpolar counterparts, brag about their country’s ‘Arctic identity’ or ‘northern character,’ but what do they mean, exactly? Stereotypes abound, from Dudley Do-Right to Northern Exposure, but these southern perspectives fail to capture northern realities.”

Those words, from the flyleaf and the promotional material for Tony Penikett’s latest book, capture quite well the essence of what our former premier was hoping to accomplish when he sat down to make a book out of the lecture notes he had prepared for a seminar he taught as the Fulbright Chair in Arctic Studies at the University of Washington’s Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies in Seattle.

University lecturing, negotiating and mediating are the sorts of things he’s been doing since he left Yukon politics in 1995, after having been a major political player in the territory since 1978. As the president of Tony Penikett Negotiations, based now in Vancouver where, as he says, he keeps his clothes, he has travelled all over the Northern World, visiting many places more than once, working in all of Canada’s territories, Alaska, the Scandinavian nations and Russia.

Originally, those lecture notes were mostly about policy, as Penikett considers himself something of a “policy wonk”, but he found that his seminar students perked up a bit when he injected some anecdotes into the mix. When it came time to turn in the manuscript to his publisher, “more stories” was the demand, and so the serious critiques and analysis are leavened with memories of his father, who was the only doctor in Dawson City for some time, of reading Lars in Laplandwhen his schoolteacher grandmother gave it to him as a boy, and of some of his siblings and his children, who are all active in the entertainment field.

The ten chapters of the book are grouped into three thematic sections.

Contours deals with identifying the landscape and the people and the development of an indigenous self-government regime, which was unique in Canada at the time that his two governments negotiated the Umbrella Final Agreement. Some other provinces where treaties were scarce have followed this lead, but it bothers him that a system that has proven its worth in the North is so little understood by the rest of the nation.

One thing that does concern him about how negotiations have tended to run, is that a group like the Arctic Council features federal and native people but, as the title of that chapter (No Settler Need Apply) indicates, ignores the fact that there are many non-indigenous people who have lived in the territories for generations, many of whom have developed a keen personal investment in the land and its culture.

The Community section is three chapters that deal with food, poverty, education, health and resources and how all these things blend together in ways that are hard for those from Outside to understand.

The final section is called Conflict. Canada’s North was heavily affected by the Cold War that ran from 1945 until the fall of the Soviet Union, when missiles were a major preoccupation.

The recent false alarm in Hawaii is a reminder of those days, and we all have to hope that the Twitter War between Donald Trump and Kim Jung Un remains nothing more than a war of words now that North Korea has nuclear weapons. Both sides may have their buttons, but as P.F. Sloan wrote decades ago “if the button is pushed there’ll be no runnin’ away”.

Climate change is another kind of conflict, and one that is creating problems (some see them as opportunities) for the North. Here in Dawson, we have only to look at the river that isn’t freezing and the shifting ground under our recreation centre to know that something is happening and that we have to figure out ways to adapt to it.

In the final chapter, “Boomers and Lifers: a New Divide”, Penikett dares to suggest that there is a more significant way to look at the North’s demographics than the traditional racial divide.

In the North there is less of a distinction between the Settler population and the Indigenous population, than used to be the case. Towards the end of the book he develops new classifications, which he refers to as Boomers and Lifers.

To quote from the book, “Boomers are adventurous folk who come north to make a killing, waving goodbye as their booms turn into busts. Lifers are competent folk who stay in the North to make a living in their homeland, working, hunting and fishing, and adapting to climate change as they build and rebuild their communities,”

There are northern realities, Penikett says, that may have more to do with actual reconciliation than any of the commissions that have lately been roaming the land.

Making these realities better known was the major theme that propelled him to write this book.

 

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Bookends: What Happens After the End? December 28, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, fantasy, Klondike Sun, thriller, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: What Happens After the End?

By Dan Davidson

January 16, 2018

After Life

– 790 words –

 

 

Afterlife

By Marcus Sakey

Thomas & Mercer

302 pages

$22.95

 

We meet the villain of this piece on page 1. He is Edmund. It is the year 1532 and he is about to become so much more than the man he is when we first meet.

As the surviving sailor on a becalmed ship, Edmund finally makes it to land, where he dies. And then … he is in another place, an afterlife stranger than any that had been suggested to him by the church. There are creatures there, dangerous demons. He manages to kill one of them and is reborn as a result, reborn with the power to enter other beings, creatures or humans, and to begin to amass the power that will make him a major player in the various worlds that he is able to visit.

He feeds on pain and distress and has the means to cause a lot of it, possessing the bodies of still living creatures and people and bending them to do his bidding.

In the present day, a killer is stalking Chicago. The FBI’s Will Brody is one of many people trying to track down the killer. Brody is in a relationship with FBI agent Claire McCoy, the person who has had to be the face of the investigation for the television cameras. She is his superior, so they are not supposed to be together. We spend enough time with them to establish the depth of the relationship before Brody gets killed investigating a sighting of the killer, who has progressed from rifles to bombs, in a church.

And then he wakes up in another place, which looks just like the one where he died, facing a group of hard eyed persons with machetes who seem intent on killing him – again.  The ex-Marine takes some damage before he manages to dispose of one of his attackers. The others flee and Brody discovers that all his injuries have healed and he is suddenly a powerhouse.

He meets peaceful others just like him, also deceased before their natural time, those who have determined not to gain power by killing in this afterlife, and learns the rules of this shadow dimension.

They can survive there, walking among the haunts of the living without touching them, being seen, seeing or affecting them. Eventually they will fade and go … somewhere else … to some other level of the afterlife. But if they succumb to the urge to kill others, they will become addicted to the power transfer.

Meanwhile, back in our reality, Claire has managed to track down the killer, who seems to be an ordinary little man, until he blows himself and her up in his home and emerges from the dust, taller, stronger and whole. Just as she is whole.

She and Brody have both been having flashes of awareness of each other since his death, and his have led him to where she has confrontation with the being who has inhabited Simon Tucks. He arrives in time to save her from Edmund, but that’s just the beginning of a new adventure for both of them.

The evil dead have never been organized until Edmund arrives among them. His goal is to dominate this half-life dimension, and this threatens everyone else who is there. They have to find a way to overcome his power.

It falls to Claire and Will to find a way back to actual life, and then to work their way through the various dimensional levels until they achieve their aim of dealing with the being they originally pursued when they thought he was just an ordinary serial killer.

What starts out as a blend of police procedural and thriller turns into a metaphysical romp through layered dimensions in search of answers and solutions. How it is all resolved turns out to be a bit of a surprise, but it works.

Parts of this book reminded me very strongly of a graphic novel from the early 2000s called Midnight Nation, written by J. Michael Straczynski (of Babylon 5 fame) and illustrated by Gary Frank.  There’s also a bit of What Dreams May Come(1978), a supernatural tour de force by Richard Matheson, which was made into a fairly trippy Academy Award winning film. starring Robin Williams, of the same name in 1998.

I don’t mention these to disparage Sakey’s work in any way. This book was a good read, and if you’d like something similar, these others will reward you. All are still available.

According to his website, both this book and a trilogy called Brilliance are due to be turned into movies. Should be interesting.

 

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