Mar Preston is the author of No Dice, a murder mystery series featuring Detective Dave Mason of the Santa Monica Police Department. Long ago she graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with a degree in history, and from the University of Southern California with a Master's Degree in Creative Writing, both of which have done her absolutely no good in writing about the world of crime. Preston makes a temporary home in a village in the mountains of central California. Temporary because she has alternate waves of longing to return both to Santa Monica, and to North Bay, Ontario.
Blackfly Season by Giles Blunt
I grew up in North Bay, Ontario or Algonquin Bay, as Giles Blunt calls it in "Blackfly Season" where the Canadian blackflies drive you mad from spring until winter. His bringing to life this unimportant city in Northern Ontario where the buzzing whine of the blackflies is only one of the reasons I admire his work so much. He's a terrific read just in terms of story, but there's so much more.
This is the third mystery featuring Detective John Cardinal of the Algonquin Bay Police and his French-Canadian partner, Lise Delorme. An attractive red-head staggers out of the bush, with no memory, covered with blackfly bites, and a bullet lodged in her brain. Cardinal and Delorme work against the victim's resistance to telling them who shot her and may try again. A quick clue leads them from an outlaw motorcycle gang, to a crooked RCMP officer, to a grisly occult group's murder spree.
You won't forget his characters, from the wannabe poet/addict who imagines himself being interviewed by David Letterman and Martin Amis, to Doofus Toofus, the amiable drug dealer hanger-on. The addict's daily plans to get clean "next Monday" sound spot-on authentic. I loved the by-play between the Chinese etymology professor and his post-doc slave.
The characters behave in a natural way, the way you might imagine yourself reacting to situations, rather than the over-the-top sensationalism that makes me stop reading some popular authors. Cardinal and Delorme are real people.
Blunt creates a tight plot with crisp dialogue that moves fast, bringing the reader in close to watch how a depraved murderer and his distortion of a Santeria-like religion are created. You may not care to linger over the details here, and Blunt's depiction is just right—enough detail—but short of gruesome.
John Cardinal's pursuit of the murderer keeps the plot moving, but Blunt's portrayal of his helplessness in the agony of his wife's severe depression brings this mystery up to literary quality. Again, Blunt knows exactly when to pull back from Cardinal's melancholy home life and make something happen that you just didn't expect.
The plot is a fine one that leads to dark places and a climactic ending. I wager you'll remember the characters longer.
Orchard, Larry Watson (White Crosses, Montana 1948, Laura)
This novel owes a lot to the story of the Andrew Wyeth's "Helga" paintings.
Ned Weaver is a narcissistic artist who persuades a neighboring Scandinavian farm woman, Sonja House, to pose for his paintings. She has recently lost a child and is somewhat alienated from her husband. Money is tight.
Weaver and House are two narcissistic men and it is easy to figure them out--what they want and how they go about getting it. Sonja is enigmatic--we never understand exactly why she poses for the pictures. I think this was deliberate. She is the unknowable, a woman from another culture, the subject of two male fantasies. Perhaps she has come to feel that she blends into the color palette of countryside too much.
And this did not detract from this being a lovely and well-written novel about life in Door Country, Wisconsin, mid twentieth century. It was especially good at exploring the artistic impulse and how a man, a great artist, would think, act, feel.
Ned Weaver is the most vibrant character, even as he is the most loathsome.
Ed Gorman is the author of the Sam McCain series of novels. The most recent being BAD MOON RISING. You can find him here.
Steve Lewis/William Deeck
Steve Lewis/Ray O'Leary
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang