jump to navigation

Bookends: Two voices of a master British Storyteller January 19, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

Bookends: Two voices of a master British Storyteller

By Dan Davidson

July 20, 2016

– 948 words –

 

There was a seasonal bookstore in the town where I grew up. It was run by a woman who taught ancient Greek at Memorial University, in Newfoundland, and returned to her Nova Scotian home during breaks and holidays. Miss Wall introduced me to British mysteries in my early teens and John Creasey (under that name and over two dozen others) was one of my favorites for a number of years.

None of his books were very long – just around 200 pages was the average – and could I easily read one of them in an evening. Creasey had an incredible range of material out there, penning over 600 books during a career that began in 1930 and continued past his death in 1973. He left a lot of material already written when he died, and his Wikipedia entry (as well as other sources) shows at least 14 novels in various series that were published posthumously.

Creasey’s books are great for Dawson to Whitehorse road trips, because they tend to clock in at around six of seven hours when read aloud. This week I’m dealing with two different series, written under two different names and about 10 years apart.

 

toff-and-old-harryThe Toff and Old Harry

By John Creasey

Narrated by George Hagan

6 hrs and 45 mins

Audible Studios on Brilliance Audio

$12.96

self not only incarcerated but temporality blinded. Several of his associates are also captured, and Rollinson is forced to cooperate with Old Harry
for a time while he figures out how to free both his associates and himself and set up a situation where the authorities can be brought to bear on the bad guys

This book is number 21 in this series and was published in 1949. By this time the character of the Hon. Richard Rollinson had shed a bit of the Simon Templar (The Saint) influence that was obvious in the earlier books, but was still not quite the upper class Peter Wimsey that always seemed to be part of his character.

Known to the police as someone who will help them in a pinch, he is also well respected by London’s underclass and someone who is always fair in his dealings.

Something odd has been happening in the criminal world as this book opens. Second rate crooks are pulling off capers that they should not have been able to plan. There seems to be a level of coordination that just doesn’t feel right.

There are rumors of a mastermind behind it all, and the name Old Harry (a synonym for the Devil) keeps coming up. Because Rollinson is one of the few men who could actually command the loyalty of the underclasses, he is soon surprised to be rumored to be Old Harry.

Thinking he is helping a young woman who has appealed to him for help, the Toff ends up getting captured by the mastermind and finds him

Creasey produced Toff novels from 1938 to 1978 the final ones appearing up to five years after his death.

gideons-month

Gideon’s Month

By John Creasey (writing as J.J. Marric)

Narrated by Hugh Kermode

5 hours ad 38 minutes

Audible Studios on Brilliance Audio

$14.99

 

Using the Marric alias, Creasey produced 21 Gideon of Scotland Yard novels between 1955 and 1976, with another writer carrying the series forward with five more novels until 1990.

Gideon’s Month was the fourth in the series, and followed a pattern set by Gideon’s Day, Gideon’s Week and Gideon’s Night, only this time frame is longest so far.

As one might expect with this long a span to cover, there is more than one case going on. Part of the idea here seems to be to show Gideon juggling a number of cases and succeeding in most of them.

Writing as Merric, Creasey created an early version of the police procedural, with lots of chatter about forensic detail. This quite different stiff from the lone adventurer template used for his Toff novels.

The overarching plot thread begins to spin out when he learns that a crime boss he has never been able to nail properly is planning to emigrate to Australia. Anxious to close that case before he can get away for good, Gideon finds this aim frustrated when the man is murdered. It seems they have the killer almost immediately, but to Gideon it also seem too pat a solution, even if it does open the opportunity to wrap up all the many enterprises this felon had been involved in.

We don’t just follow Gideon in this novel. We have vignettes that highlight cases beyond the big one.

There’s the little boy who is being abused by his mother, who is training him to be a pickpocket. There is, in fact an epidemic of chlld related crimes that has the Yard very concerned.

There’s the case of the estranged husband who has made off with his young daughter in violation of the custody arrangements.

There’s the case of the criminal housekeeper who turns out to be preying on elderly clients, and probably hastening their deaths in order to rob them of their money and goods.

There’s the evil young man who has had a series of marriages which have ended up with the wife dead and him inheriting a fair amount of cash.

There’s the entirely different case of the young bride who apparently managed out fall out the window of her upper story flat whlle her husband was in the washroom.

All of this takes place in the month of May and makes for a very busy month and a pretty absorbing listening experience.

 

-30-

 

Advertisements

Bookends: Warfare among the Spire Cities January 17, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Science Fiction, Whitehorse Star.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

Bookends: Warfare among the Spire Cities

By Dan Davidson

April 27, 2016windlass-copy

– 996 words –

 

The Aeronaut’s Windlass

By Jim Butcher

ROC (Penguin Group)

630 pages

$35.95

 

Jim Butcher is certainly best known for the 16 volumes chronicling the adventures of Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, Chicago’s only publically advertised full time wizard. That one’s got four or five volumes still to go, and is narrated as a hard-boiled private eye first person story.

Along the way he wrote the five volume Codex Alera. Each volume contained the word, beings that bonded with the various groups of humans, and some other beings, who had somehow ended up on this strange, almost sentient, planet. Codex had a clear beginning and end, and was primarily the story of the boy who grew up to become the ruler of the human dominated portion of the world.

It was told in an entirely different style, from many different points of view, and had much more in common with high fantasy and myth structures.

Now we have a new series, The Cinder Spires, of which The Aeronaut’s Windlass is the first volume. This is an entirely different narrative stew, bringing together elements of steampunk science fiction, fantasy and old style swashbuckling adventure fiction. I had not gone far into this Christmas present when the name Rafael Sabatini popped into my head. Sabatini produced titles like The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood over a half-century between 1902 and 1949 and I once had half a dozen of his books on my shelves.

This new series takes place on what must be an alien world where humanity lives well above (miles above) the deadly green surface of the planet on massive towers, called spires, made time-out-of-mind ago by some powerful beings who don’t seem to be around any more – though it’s early days yet, and they may turn up. Spire material is basically indestructible, though that can’t be said of the human created additions to the basic pattern.

The surface of the planet is very hostile to spire dwellers, filled with numerous deadly creatures, especially some large spider-like beasts. Yet humans must go there, because wood does not grow on the spires, and wood is needed for so many things, particularly the crafting of the ships that ply the skies for trade and for battle.

It’s a very class stratified society where social and work roles seem to be pre-determined. Living beside the humans there are the cats, very intelligent cats, who have their own clans and their own priorities. Most humans are not really aware of these things, though they are aware that some members of the warrior class share a certain amount of feline DNA and have cat-like attributes. Some others can actually speak cat and communicate with their companions.

And don’t ever think of that relationship as having anything to do with pets, not unless you reverse the ownership status.

Much of the technology of the world is powered by crystals. By means of these they use airships, that look very much like nautical vessels. They lift, have motion, rise and fall in the sky, by means of these specialized crystals, which also act as the power source for portable blaster weapons called gauntlets, and well as the larger force cannons with which the ships may do arial combat. They also provide force shields, without which arial battles would end rather quickly.

In addition, there is magic, exercised by etherialists, who pay a stiff price in some form of mental, physical or social functioning as they use their power. Old Ferus hauls around a collection of odds and ends that makes one think of a homeless person with a shopping cart. For some reason, he can longer use doorknobs properly. His apprentice, Folly, cannot speak directly to other people, but must address her comments to the bag of crystals she carries.

As the story progresses, we do meet one other etherialist, a particularly evil woman who seems to be Darth Vader to Ferus’ Obi Wan Kenobi. We also learn that there may be sentience, besides that of cats, in other places we might not have thought to find it.

The individual spires may be at peace sometimes, like rival city-states, but this book opens in the middle of the beginning of an attempted invasion of Spire Albion by another spire, and this conflict rages throughout the book, never really letting up.

There are a number of viewpoints here. We begin with Gwen of House Lancaster, who, it seems, is defying her noble mother by choosing to serve in the spire’s military. Next up is Captain Grimm, of the airship Predator. He was cashiered from the spire‘s navy for reasons we learn later, and his ship is what we would call a privateer. Soon we meet Bridget, daughter of another family of note, but one that has fallen on hard times. She, too, is bound for the military life, along with her inseparable companion cat, Rowl. That he calls her Littlemouse gives you a clear sense of who he thinks is in charge.

We spend most of the book seeing the action through the eyes of these four, including the cat, though there are other viewpoints along the way, including some from those we would have to call the enemy, one of which is Grimm’s former wife.

This was a book that was a lot of fun to read, so I spun out its 69 chapters by only reading one of two of them a day. This was difficult, as it is Butcher’s practice to deliver a lot of cliffhanger chapter endings, and the next page usually takes you to a different set of characters.

In an interview, the author says he’s planned this series in trilogies. He’s got a three book contract and can pull off an ending there if need be, but he’s also got a general outline for either six or nine books. I hope he gets to write them.

 

-30-

 

Bookends: Death on a Time-share plan January 17, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

Bookends: Death on a Time-share plan

By Dan Davidson

a-share-in-deathApril 13, 2016

– 777 words –

 

A Share in Death

By Deborah Crombie

276 pages in print

Simon & Schuster Canada, Inc.

e-Book edition: $10.99

 

It seems to be a thing that a lot of American and Canadian mystery writers like to set their novels in England. Sometimes it’s because they lived there in their younger years. Sometimes they’ve spent some time living there as adults, even though they don’t live there now. It seems like they are simply Anglophiles and enjoy spending more mental time in that setting.

Martha Grimes (lives in Maryland, writes Richard Jury series) and Elizabeth George (lives in Ohio, writes Inspector Lynley series) come to mind from the USA. In Canada we have Peter Robinson (lives in Toronto, writes Inspector Banks series).

Thanks to Canadian mystery writer Vicki Delany, my wife was introduced to the work of Deborah Crombie, a Texan who has lived in the UK and has produced 16 books in a series featuring Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Sergeant Gemma James. Betty’s been binging on these books and has run through the entire set via KOBO. We’ve figured out how to share each others e-books, so I’m just getting started on this series. Crombie’s backlist does seem to still be available between paper covers from several different publishers if you absolutely insist on the real thing.

This is the first of the Kincaid and James mysteries, originally published in 1993 and reprinted a number of times since then, as well as being available as an audio book.

These sorts of British team mysteries usually have a senior detective and a junior partner, and some of the pleasure of the reading is watching the interaction between the pair. It can be the snob versus the everyman, as in the Inspector Morse books; the intellectual versus the active investigator, as in the Midsommer mysteries; the subdued class warfare of the Lynley books; or experience versus eager youth, which J.K. Rowling has been working in her Cormoran Strike series.

By “versus” I don’t mean that these people are at each other throats all the time, but the contrasts do provide a source of tension in the narratives.

This doesn’t really feel like a first novel, even though it is. Kincaid is actually on vacation, taking advantage of the loan of a luxurious Yorkshire time-share called Followdale House. James is back in London and about the only communication the two have in this book is by telephone. You get a sense that there could be depths to this relationship, but there’s no real space for it in this book. What we do get is the feeling that we’ve walked into the middle of a partnership that is fairly mature and has been developing for some time. It’s like we’ve missed all the introductory episodes of a television show and started watching when the basic framework has already been established, spite of which it works quite well.

Kincaid is just getting to know the other guests and staff when one of the staff is found floating in the whirlpool bath. Kincaid has not told anyone he is with Scotland Yard, but his quiet vacation soon comes to an abrupt end as he becomes tangled up in the investigation, much to the annoyance of the thoroughly incompetent local head of police.

This scenario did remind me somewhat of the initial George Gently novel that I reviewed here back in February. Both detectives would much rather not have gotten involved in a case while on holiday, but kind of get dragged in and then can’t help themselves, even when they aren’t much appreciated by the locals.

In Kincaid’s case he’s also viewed with suspicion by the other guests, who feel that he’s been lurking about under false pretenses. Though he really wasn’t, he ends up feeling almost guilty about trying to set aside his job for a week’s rest. He’s just recently been promoted and has been feeling a bit burned out.

In a nod to Agatha Christie, there’s a plethora of suspects and possible motives before we get too far into the story, and this is where Gemma James comes into her own. Operating on instructions from Kincaid, she busily tracks down the backgrounds and possible connections of all the guests and staff at Followdale. She’s pretty good at her part of the job.

While she is doing this, there’s another murder and an assault and the waters get ever murkier.

I’ll leave it at that, except to say that this was an enjoyable little mystery and I look forward to reading more of them.

 

-30-

Bookends: There are worlds waiting out there January 16, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Science Fiction.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

Bookends: There are worlds waiting out there

By Dan Davidsonthe-long-earth

January 27, 2016

– 805 words –

 

The Long Earth

By Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Corgi Books

424 pages

$12.99

 

The late Terry Pratchett was known for his whimsical fantasies, especially for the 39 volumes of his Discworld series. Stephen Baxter is better known for what is generally called “hard science fiction”. In 2010, three years after Pratchett announced he was beginning to suffer from early-onset Alzheimer’s, the two friends began an unlikely collaboration that led to the four volume Long Earth series, of which this is the first book.

As both authors had experience in collaborating with other writers, working together wasn’t a new thing for either of them, but their previous collaborations has been with authors who were doing work similar to their own solo endeavors, and so that made this series unusual.

One is tempted to think that Baxter provided the pseudo-science and Pratchett the humorous human touches.

This first novel is somewhat of a travel piece. Had Jules Verne written it, it might have been titled Across the Worlds in 80 Days. The notion is that there are many parallel dimensions and that they are accessible to humanity in s variety of ways.

The concept of the multiverse will not be news to those who read comic books. The world of DC comics features 52 alternate universes, while the somewhat more ambitious Marvel group has them numbering in at least the hundreds. The Flash television show has been working with Earths 1 and 2 most of this season and the Fringe series likewise played with the concept for much of its five year run.

Some people, the theory goes, have the inborn ability to “step” between worlds. They can simply do it. Others need the artificial assistance of a placebo device called a “stepper”. It was invented by Willis Linsey, and the plans freely distributed via the internet.

Stepping gave access to an infinite number of worlds, just a step away to the “east” or “west”, worlds full of resources and absolutely uninhabited by humans. They contain animals, minerals, everything that our world contains, but there’s mostly nobody home.

Stepping changed the world. Lots of disaffected people, folks like those liberating militia folks in Oregon, for instance, simply up and left, although they soon found that the nations back in the home world (called Datum Earth) laid claim to all their contiguous iterations, where ever they might be.

It’s easy to leave, though you do have to make your own stepper, and the motion sickness stepping causes makes you not want to do it too often. The only caveat is that you can’t take anything containing iron with you. There’s iron ore in every dimension, sure enough, and you can develop it wherever you go, but it can’t step with you.

Not every dimension is at the same stage in the planet’s development. There are ice ages, prehistoric ages, ages when there are inland seas and ages when the continents aren’t quite where they are now.

There are other intelligent life forms of a sort. Some of them are natural steppers, and their occasional arrival in our plane of existence (and this feels like Terry) may account for many of our legends and fables of little people and faerie people.

This is largely the story of Joshua Valienté, one of the natural steppers. He needs no device and he doesn’t get sick. After years of travelling the worlds helping people cope, he is recruited by an artificial intelligence named Lobsang, who claims to be the reincarnated spirit of a Tibetan monk.

(Google Lobsang Rampa to see where they dug this this idea up.)

Lobsang, in the employ of the transnational Black Corporation, wants to explore the multiverse, and wants Joshua as a companion in his immense airship, the Mark Twain. Much of the book is taken up with their travels, the transplanted societies that they meet and the even stranger variant humanoid creatures that have evolved in places where humanity didn’t.

There is a second strand of narrative dealing with the life of Monica Jansson, a cop in Madison Wisconsin, the place where stepping first began. Much of this is connected with the radical organization of humans, a distinct minority, who are unable to step at all, and resent those who can come and go.

Other, smaller, strands follow some of the stepper families as they set up new societies in the various alternative planets of what has come to be known as the Long Earth.

All in all, it’s a fascinating book, full of adventure and humour and the occasional philosophical debate. The developing relationship between Lobsang and Joshua is a big part of the appeal, but this is a vast new playground the authors have created and I certainly don’t blame them for wanting to use it more than once.

 

-30-

 

 

 

Bookends: Introducing the book version of George Gently January 16, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

Bookends: Introducing the book version of George Gently

By Dan Davidson

February 24, 2016gently-does-it

– 790 words –

 

Gently Does It

By Alan Hunter

Hachette Book Group Digital

133 pages in print length

Kobo edition

$7.99

 

Alan Hunt may have wanted to be a poet. Certainly his first book was something called The Norwich Poems, after which there were no more published books until 1955, when the one I’m reviewing this week appeared. It was the first of 48 novels in a series that continued until 1999.

He’s not the only genre writer to take this kind of detour. Max Brand, best known as a writer of paperback Westerns, really wanted to be a poet, but ended up writing over 500 books in a variety of genres, including the creation of Doctor James Kildare.

I picked up Gently Does it because I am a fan of the George Gently series of 90 minute mini-movies produced in two to four episodes yearly by the BBC since 2007.

Hunter’s Gently doesn’t bear much resemblance to the character played by Martin Shaw in the series. That fellow is a widower, a bit of a cynic, often bluff, but unfailingly kind. In this book, at least, he’s older, thinking about retirement, still connected to the London police, and working alone. TV’s Gently has great suspicions about police corruption. The bookish Gently is more concerned with their dunderheadedness. Also, British TV mysteries tend to have a mentor/student pattern to them, (see the Morse and Lewis series, or the various iterations of Midsomer Murders) but there’s no sign of the brash young John Bacchus in this book.

The BBC series also made the style decision to have all the stories take place from 1964 on, allowing for a “British Invasion” style of soundtrack and a variety of increasingly shaggy haircuts. Grant had written 12 of these books by 1964, and this one is very much mid-fifties England of 60 years ago.

In this first book, Gently is already an established name in police circles, but all he was looking for when he arrived in Norchester was a good fishing hole and a bit of leisure. Instead, as a visiting homicide expert, he gets roped into an investigation that the locals really can’t handle.

Just because he’s been asked to sit in doesn’t mean that the locals really want him, or that they are interested in anything other than closing the case quickly, even it the closure they want isn’t accurate. The reason they didn’t want one of the other CID specialists was that he had proven them wrong on a prior case. That probably told Gently a lot about how this case would go.

For Gently, the big problem with pinning the murder of timber merchant Huysmann on his estranged son is that he saw the young man perform his “Walls of Death” (look it up – I had to) motorcycle act at a local circus and was certain that a) there wasn’t time enough for him to have done the deed and b) he would never have had the nerve to do his act if he had either murdered his father or was planning to do so later. Also, he liked the young man and his wife.

This is slender stuff to base an acquittal on, and he knows it, but he keeps digging away at all the other possible folk who might have had means, motive or opportunity, and it’s not that long before he picks a more likely villain or two.

So do we, but that’s all right. Hunter’s Gentle Reminder, as the book begins, runs as follows.

“This is a detective story, but NOT a ‘whodunit’. Its aim is to give a picture of a police inspector slowing building up his knowledge of a crime to a point, not where he knows who did it –both you and he know that at a fairly early stage – but to a point where he can bring a charge which will convince a jury.

“I thought it worthwhile mentioning this, I hate being criticized for not doing what I had no intention of doing.”

There are lots of red herrings, and some nasty folk who are doing things that look very suspicious. Indeed, eventually one of them gets arrested for the very crime the local force had booked the son for, which gets him off the hook. But while Gently had pointed them in this bloke’s direction, they are less than pleased when he tells them that, whatever his sins, murder probably isn’t one of them.

I enjoyed this rather mannered mystery. About the only thing that irked me was the Inspector’s fixation with peppermint cream candies, which seemed to make an appearance nearly every other page.

 

-30-

 

Bookends: There are too many motives in this case January 16, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

Bookends: There are too many motives in this case

By Dan Davidson

January 6, 2016

code– 858 words –

The Code
By G.B Joyce

Viking Press
343 pages

Kindle edition

$13.50

Several times in the course of this novel Brad “Shadow” Shade compares his job as a hockey scout for an unnamed NHL team in LA to that of a private eye, but the former NHL player never expected to be drawn into a murder investigation when he agreed to play on an Old Timer’s Game in Peterborough.

Shade loves the game, but he’s not at all sure about the league to which he devoted all those years from 1985 to 1998, before he was sidelined by the “Arthur”, as he calls it, that keeps him in pretty constant pain. He’s popping pan meds quite a lot, especially after a long flight or if he choses to lace up his skates, as he did for the Charity Old Timers’ Game in Peterborough the night that legendary coach Red Hanratty and his junior team doctor, Doc McGarry, were beaten to death in he parking lot outside the arena.

Shade wants us to know that the game is great, but we should “Understand that the league is a systemic organization of hatreds. You might know a lot about the game, but you’ll know nothing about the league until you accept this.

“It’s true of all of them: the players, the coaches, the general managers, the executives, the agents, and the owners. It goes right from the high and mighty, the commissioner and his ilk in their plush Madison Avenue offices, right down to the lowest ranks, the scouts who sit next to me in arenas great and small.”

So when something like murder happens, there’s really no lack of motivation to hunt for. All you need to do is match it with means and opportunity.

Shade has some experience with this too. In between playing and scouting he made use of his incomplete degree in criminology and spent five years working for a private investigator, mostly doing divorce work (“I’d been through my own and knew what to look for.”) before another former player, elevated to GM rank in LA, offered him a job as a scout.

Shade has a good eye for evaluating potential in young players, and his other reason for spending time in Peterborough has been to keep an eye on Hanratty’s golden boy, Billy Mays. Scouting is a job he enjoys, even if there are little hiccups like the time he got swarmed by cops in the airport in Frankfurt while reaching for his cellphone (one of the best scenes in the book) and one he would like to keep, but nothing is totally certain in the world of pro sports and his GM’s position is precarious.

Bits of Shade’s life have been precarious. He was initially going to follow his dad into police work, but got sidetracked by hockey. His marriage foundered when the cute young actress eventually became a bigger star than he was and she moved on. He wasn’t in the game long enough or at a high enough level to put away a nest egg, so he’s always had to scrabble to pay the bills. He has an aging car he calls the Rusty Beemer.

G.B. Joyce, otherwise known as sportswriter Gare Joyce, did spend a year working as a scout while he was researching a 2007 hockey book, Future Greats and Heartbreaks, so he is able to project a lot of convincing details into his first person narrator.

The voice and tone are familiar. It’s not poetic enough for Chandler, and too nice for Hammett, not self-assured enough for Spenser; but it is in that realm, the realm of the tarnished hero, walking the mean streets and trying, more or less, to do the right thing. Howard Engel’s Benny Cooperman on steroids maybe.

For an ex-hockey player Shade is fairly cerebral. Yes, he lays a beating on the villain who tries to harm his significant other later in the book, and there is a bar fight earlier on, but most of the time he’s thinking various things through, examining the angles, making connections, making sense out of events that other people aren’t managing to.

He says it’s the way he used to play hockey, not as a star, but as someone who could help others make plays and see the big picture even if he didn’t score a lot of goals himself.

This one’s been sitting in my “to read” box for a bit, which is why I’ve given you the Kindle reference. It had “A Brad Shade Thriller” stamped on the cover by the title, so Joyce set out to do a series from the get-go. Sure enough, there’s been another one already. It’s called The Black Ace, and I think I’d like to read it too, eventually.

Joyce hasn’t given up his day job. He currently writes for Sportsnet, and his coverage of the recent World Junior Championships in Helsinki was interesting, even for someone like me who stopped following the game after the first expansion teams were brought in.

 

-30-

Bookends: Living with the Consequences of Disaster January 28, 2016

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
Tags: , , , , , ,
add a comment

Bookends: Living with the Consequences of Disaster

By Dan Davidson

Back of the TurtleJuly 8, 2015

– 895 words –

 

The Back of the Turtle

By Thomas King

HarperCollins

518 pages

$33.99

Thomas King’s latest novel begins one day at first light, a portentous day in which one man would try to kill himself, watched by two individuals as he headed for the beach and the rock formation where he hoped to be engulfed by the tide.

Watching him are a man named Nicholas Crisp and a dog which will acquire a number of names as the story progresses. Crisp is a man of indeterminate age who speaks in a strangely antique tongue and is a catalytic figure during his interactions with the others on this British Columbia coastline. This part of the book takes place near a deserted town that used to be known as the Smoke River Reserve, but is more commonly known now as The Ruin.

The man who is trying to physically drown himself is Gabriel Quinn, a brilliant scientist of First Nations lineage who is drowning in guilt. For some time now he has been conflicted about the work he has done for the Domidion company, particularly in the area of defoliants. He has been making lists of environmental disasters and the realization that his own chemical, called Greensweep. has, in fact, devastated the place where he grew up, has pushed him over the edge.

Quite by accident, he ends up saving the lives of some boat people on that very night, and his plan is postponed until at least the next high tide. He is still determined to do himself in as a penance, but meeting Mara causes him to delay his plans.

Mara is a Native woman who also grew up in Smoke River, and was living elsewhere when the Ruin destroyed the place, killing all the wildlife, the turtles which used to lay their eggs on the beach and, ultimately, most of the people who lived there. She has returned to try to reclaim some of her old life.

She and Quinn come into contact with each other, and with Crisp and the dog. The old man spends a lot of time trying to get the two of them to see possibilities in life, rather than just digging themselves deeper in sorrow. A lot of this involves retellings of the Turtle Island legend.

There are two other strands to the story, and they are sort of commentary and comic relief.

At the beach there is Sonny, a mentally unstable young man whose favorite pastime is hitting things (wham-wham!) with a hammer. He has deluded himself into thinking that he is looking after a derelict hotel with his father, who is, in fact, not there at all. His antics are often humorous, but we never quite figure out why he is the way he is.

In Toronto we spend some equally confusing time with Domidion CEO Dorian Asher, an extremely narcissistic man whose main concerns in life seen to be shopping, pleasing himself, and making sure that his company is never held responsible for any harm it might cause to the world.

It was a Domidion error – using many times too much of the chemical – that caused the Ruin. They have managed to cover that up so far. But Domidion is involved in the Athabasca Oil/Tar Sands mining in Alberta, and one of their settling ponds has just breached its dam. Others are about to follow.

As we follow Asher, it is clear that all of this is, to him, primarily an exercise in public relations. As long as they can stay ahead of the story, he can continue dining out, buying new watches and suits, moving to a bigger condo and puzzling over why his wife could possibly want to leave him.

He and his minions also puzzle over the whereabouts of one of the firms chief scientists, a fellow named Quinn. They can’t find any trace of him.

Asher’s portions of the book are perhaps the weakest parts. The other characters have developmental arcs – even Sonny to some degree – but I kept wishing that a safe would fall on the head of this cartoon character who seems to be totally devoid of any serious adult empathy for others. Maybe that was what King was aiming for.

It’s interesting that literary online accounts of this excellent 2014 book refer to it as the first novel King had produced after a 15 year detour into non-fiction. Since that detour produced a book of connected essays, The Truth about Stories, in 2003 (the Massey Lectures for that year, by the way), and two award winning books about the experience of First Nations people in Canadian history – A Short History of Indians in Canada (McNally Robinson Aboriginal Book of the Year Award in 2006) and The Inconvenient Indian (the RBC Taylor Prize in 2014) – I would say it was a worthwhile detour.

What puzzles me more though, is the total disregard for his foray into the mystery genre, the two books he published under the pen name of Hartley Goodweather. Dreadful Water Shows Up (2002) and The Red Power Murders: A DreadfulWater Mystery (2006) may not have quite the same Governor General’s Award winning cachet as The Back of the Turtle, but they are undoubtedly enjoyable novels and don’t deserve to be ignored.

 

-30-

Bookends: Two books about revolutionary change January 27, 2016

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment

Bookends: Two books about revolutionary change

By Dan

June 10, 2015

– 875 words -Davidson

 

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

By Robert HeinleinMoon is Harsh

Orb Books

384 pages

$13.71

 

Blackstone Audiobooks

Unabridged reading by Lloyd James

14 hours and 12 minute

$29.95

 

Science fiction writers of the mid 1960s missed a lot of things, like personal computers and cell phones, for instance, but they also assumed we’d be a lot further ahead when it comes to space exploration. Writing several years before the moon landing, Robert Heinlein assumed that by 2076 we’d have colonies on the moon and that, given the biological adjustments to one-sixth earth normal gravity that would take place after an extended residence, it would tend to be a one way trip.

To him, that suggested that the moon might well become a penal colony: Australia in space, home of political and criminal exiles from the mother planet.

Now the date, ending in 76 as it does, is a strong suggestion as to what kind of book this is likely to be. It’s about the various lunar colonies banding together and shaking off the chains of Earth. In this future, Luna (as the locals like to call it) is a major supplier of grain for the crowded Earth, but the resources that make this possible are finite and a group of people realize that this cannot go on.

The story is told to us in a somewhat stilted, Russian influenced dialect by Manuel Garcia O’Kelly Davis, a computer tech who has stumbled onto a secret that no one else knows. The main computer that runs much of the tech on the moon has reached that tipping point of circuits, processing and memory capacity where it has developed sentience, has become an artificial intelligence. As it is a HOLMES IV computer, Manny decides to call it Mike (short for Mycroft) and has spent a fair amount of time teaching it about being human (they exchange jokes) before he becomes involved with the lunar resistance movement.

Other key characters are the typical Heinlein “wise old man” character, Professor Bernardo de la Paz, and would be revolutionary Wyoming Knott. Manny becomes involved with the resistance and, with the assistance of Mike, the three of them build the sort of organization needed to pry Luna free.

The book breaks down into three sections: the building of the resistance; the Earth-side negotiations; the actual revolution.

There’s a lot of Heinleinish rhetoric about different kinds of family structures. Manny is part of a line family with multiple husbands and wives. There’s lots of There Ain’t No Such Thing As a Free Lunch (tanstaafl) conversation, with action vignettes to prove the point. The book is at times a bit of a “talking heads” production, but the conversations are interesting.

Since there are 41 extant editions and formats of this book, you can choose the version you like. The one on my bookshelf is the 1968 Berkley/Putnam edition, which I read in 1969 when I was in grade 12. I don’t reread novels often, but I have taken to listening to old favourites while travelling, and this is one I can definitely recommend. It got me through 27 bags of leaves while cleaning up the lawn, as well as most of the way to Skagway on a recent road trip. Lloyd James did an excellent job with the first person narration as well as the numerous voices needed to make the story come to life.

While I read all five of the novels that came after this one, RAH did become more and more obsessed with sex and with being preachy about lifestyles and politics as he got older, and this is the book that marks for me the end of his strongest period as a writer.

 

 

Rupert’s Parchment: Story of Magna Carta

Story by Eileen Cameron

Illustrations by Doris EttlingerRupert's Parchment

Mascott Books

36 pages

$19.95

 

As our current government nibbles away at the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it’s interesting to take a look at the document that started the notion that there should be limits to the power of the state over the lives of its people.

Within our English tradition, the document is the Magna Carta (or Great Charter), which celebrates its 800th anniversary on June 15 this year.

Rupert is the son of a local parchment maker. His village has been ransacked by the king’s men on a number of occasions, so when the family learns of a great gathering at Runnymede – a thing that may either be a negotiation or a great battle – Rupert is fascinated.

It turns out to be a negotiation, and Rupert’s father is asked to provide the parchment on which the solemn agreement between King John and the disaffected nobles will be written and signed.

One of the key phrases, one we may need to remember in light of Bill C-51, is “No free man shall be imprisoned or stripped of his rights or possessions … except by lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.”

The text is appropriate for young readers. There is a story as well as some factual material and the illustrations are effective.

 

-30-

 

Bookends: What if the old souls come back? November 5, 2015

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment

Bookends: What if the old souls come back?

By Dan Davidson

May 30, 2015

– 822 words –

 

The IntrudersThe Intruders

By Michael Marshall Smith

HarperCollins e-books

394 pages

$9.99

The novel begins with the murder of a mother and son, on a night when they actually seem to be communicating for a change. The man at the door said he was from the FBI, but the gun, the lighter fluid and the flame said something else. “Where is it?” he kept asking, and poor Gina had no idea what he was talking about, other than that it must be connected to her husband, Bill, and he was not home.

The man who said he was from the FBI went by the name of Richard Shepherd, but his last name was really more of a job description. It defined his role within the organization known as Qui Revert. He was ruthless because it was his job, and if he did it well his superiors might, some day, reward him with the immortality they enjoyed.

About half of this story is told by Jack Whalen, an ex-cop from LA, who has become a successful writer following the events (which are never quite clear) that caused him to resign from the LAPD. He now lives nearer to Seattle, with his wife, Amy, who works in advertising and sometimes has to travel.

When Jack was in high school he knew a girl named Donna, a girl who killed herself and left behind a smudged note, a girl who never quite fit in, a girl who had desperately wanted to connect with Gary Fisher, the school’s alpha male.

Twenty years after that event and two weeks after Gina’s bad night, Gary turns up on Jack’s doorstep with a really weird story, and an assignment he wants Jack to take on.

Jack’s reluctant. The truth is the next book just isn’t coming along, and his wife has been acting strange lately, as if she’s not quite herself sometimes. When did she start secretly smoking and listening to big band jazz?

While Jack’s trying to decide what to do, a little girl named Madison goes missing not too far away. It happens after she meets Shepherd on the beach, but he doesn’t take her. He starts a process that takes her over, and she becomes the walking puppet for another consciousness, that of a very bad man named Marcus, a serial killer who vanished some years ago, just as the police were about to catch up with him. The book follows Madison/Marcus as she leaves home and runs off to the city, there to meet with other members of Qui Revert, who would much rather she/he didn’t still exist.

Well before the end of the book, we find we are dealing with a kind of reincarnation. The essence of a person, whatever you call it, is recycled into a new being, but sometimes, in some special places, like the old brownstone in the city that was built on what used to be a sacred place for the local natives, the walls between the here and the hereafter are thin, and the personality that used to own the essence survives and can be coaxed forth by certain talismans.

The Shepherds are in charge of this process. Madison is being shepherded to become Marcus, though the process has begun a decade too soon. Amy was approached when she was 18, and someone named Rose is taking up more and more of her mental and emotional space.

Some people can’t deal with the mental and emotional dissonance, and end up like Donna. Some people, like Amy, chose this kind of personality suicide because of some event in their present life that they can’t handle. Rose just has a stronger will than Amy, and is determined to bring back the essence of the jazz musician she loved in that earlier life.

Gary and Jack investigate on their separate tracks and eventually come together in a way that surprises Jack more than Gary. Jack actually stumbles onto much of what Gary has reasoned out when he goes looking for Amy, who has gone missing after a trip to Seattle that was only supposed to be a brief one.

I’m not going to say more than that. I picked this up because of the BBC America mini-series that ran last fall in eight episodes. I had a feeling there was more to the story. The Internet information on the series says it was cancelled after one season, but in truth it was simply a video novel in eight chapters and there was no reason for it to be continued beyond that somewhat open ending. There were a lot of changes between the book and the series, and the book has a lot more detail, but I would have to say that the series was quite faithful to the main plot lines and characters. I enjoyed both versions.

-30-

Bookends: A Lost Mine holds many deadly secrets November 5, 2015

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
Tags: , , , , , ,
add a comment

Bookends: A Lost Mine holds many deadly secrets

By Dan Davidson

May 26, 2015

– 898 words –

 

The Lost Mine Murders: A Klondike Era MysteryLost Mine Murders

by Sharon Rowse

Three Cedars Press

293 pages

Kindle Edition

$5.99

Sharon Rowse’s “Klondike Era Mystery” series is just a tad deceptive in terms of its marketing strategy. John Lansdowne Granville and his partner, Sam Scott, actually live in Goldrush era Vancouver, having settled there after their adventures in the Klondike. In the first book, The Silk Train Murders, Granville rescued himself from the down at the heels life he had fallen into after his time in the Yukon when Scott was falsely arrested for murder and nearly hung.

Granville, ne’er do well son of the British aristocracy, transformed himself into a private detective in order to save his former mining partner, and that led the pair into the new partnership which is well established by the time this story occurs.

It’s December 30, 1899, when the pair sit down with Marty Cole, a grimy old miner who spins them the tale of a lost mine in the southern BC wilderness, near a place called Pitt Lake. His claim is that he wants to find the mine and turn it over to a descendant of the man who made the partial map he shows the partners. He promises them a share of the profit from the working mine if they will help him find it.

Granville and Scott are still on the trail of a missing infant, but that trail has gone cold while they wait for more information from the USA, so they decide to take this on while they wait.

It’s not a job that’s supposed to take very long. They decide to take Trent Davis, their young apprentice, with them. It’s a good choice, as it turns out, for while the pair are experienced in the wilderness, Trent actually grew up in the bush, and turns out to be even more of an asset than they would have thought.

Side plots abound. In the first book Granville became acquainted with a young woman named Emily Turner, who turned out to be a fountain of information on that first case. Emily’s family is as Victorian upper middle class as can be, and the only way the pair of them can manage to consult with each other is for them to pretend to be engaged. This is actually a condition which would please them both if it were real, but they spend much of their time dancing around the potential relationship, both pretending it’s all very much business-like.

Emily has, in fact, enrolled in a business school, to learn typewriting, the very sort of school my mother and her sisters would sign up for in the late 1930s, when computers were still a glimmer in Alan Turing’s eye. Her family is not happy with such a working class decision, but Emily plugs away at it, even though she really has to struggle with the machine.

The other thing impeding her progress is that she keeps getting involved in both of Granville’s cases, snooping around the city with her friend, Clara, whose interest is certainly enhanced by the involvement of the young reporter, Tim O’Hearn.

While they pursue their line of investigation, Granville’s party is ambushed in the woods and their client is killed, while Scott is badly injured. They are assisted in nursing him back to health by an Indian (this is 1899 after all) healer of the Katzie (Salish) tribe, and in the process meet an amateur anthropologist who is studying the local customs and is a fount of knowledge.

In due time Granville and his team make their way to Denver, still searching for the missing child. They are ambushed there as well, though they come out of it without being injured at all. In the end they break up a baby farm and find Sarah, the missing child.

Back home, there is still a lot of tidying up to do. Mostly it’s a question of locating Mary Pearson, who seems to be the rightful heir of Cole’s map. Emily’s work on this side of the story is crucial to their success. Wrapping up this mystery and the murders associated with it move the story along to a rather surprising conclusion..

I found this second book an improvement on the first, with more development of the two central characters, Granville and Emily. The narrative follows their points of view, which does end to make the supporting cast seem a bit like set decoration, but that’s not uncommon in this type of mystery.

Rowse has recently released a third volume in this series, The Missing Heir Murders, and seems to be alternating these books with a series set in modern times and featuring a female sleuth named Barbara O’Grady.

I’ve been reading Rowse’s mysteries in e-book form and I do hope the next one is converted a bit better. It’s disconcerting to see a word printed in italics and then find (italics) right after it as if someone messed up the formatting.

In terms of historical accuracy, I haven’t really noticed any howlers in these books, but Rowse’s website (http://www.sharonrowse.com/historical-research/) invites you to check, with a listing of books she consulted in order to create her settings, as well as references about the Salish people and their healing practices.

-30-