Saturday, 4 January 2014

Read and Reading - The Overflowing Bookshelf...

As I may have mentioned, I'm an avid reader, and am lucky to live within short walking distance of the largest bookstore in Ireland.

Which is probably just as well, given the amount of time and indeed money I spend there, and the often heavy load of material I carry away from the place.

The store is called, appropriately enough, Chapters, and has evolved from a small rented space on Dublin's South Side to its present location, a purpose-built premises on Parnell Street, in the North City Centre.

I mention this because, when on a recent trip to Toronto and in need of something to read, I found a bookstore called, coincidentally enough, Chapters, at the corner of John and Richmond Streets, next to the ScotiaBank Theatre.

I didn't realise at the time that this store was part of a so-called 'big-box' chain; indeed, it gave every bit the impression of being similar to the one in Dublin (albeit with a Starbucks on the premises). It's bright, with helpful staff, and you can have a coffee and read if your feet have been worn out from walking.

I bought three books:

Red Planet Blues, by Robert Sawyer, a neo-noir PI story set on (the name's a giveaway) Mars. The protagonist, Lomax, is Mars' only licensed private investigator, in the domed city of New Klondike where prospectors eke out a living attempting to uncover ancient Martian fossils outside in the wastelands.

Many elect to become Transfers, downloading their consciousness into an android replica (usually enhanced in some manner) that allows them to exist on the Martian surface without the need for an environmental suit. Like Pinocchio in reverse.

The McGuffin in this case is the "mother lode" of fossils discovered years previously by two explorers (but now lost following their untimely demise in a spaceship crash), and which everyone considers the Big Prize. Naturally skulduggery and double-cross abound, and our hero finds himself in one tight situation after another as he uncovers clues that lead him to the solution of who murdered the original explorers.

Originally a novella entitled "Identity Theft", Sawyer expanded the original story to tell a bigger tale, however for me the result was unsatisfying. Too many plot twists, reappearing characters, and changes in motivation made it difficult to warm to.

I made it to the end, but if a sequel appears, I won't be first in line..

Next, by Gordon Pinsent with George Anthony, is the autobiography (if one can say that where there was a collaborative effort) of one of Canada's foremost actors.

I first became aware of Mr. Pinsent when he appeared in the Canadian comedy drama Due South as Sgt. Bob Fraser, RCMP (deceased). Initially only supposed to appear in the pilot, reaction to the character was positive enough that the writers kept him in the show as a ghost, appearing to his son at certain moments to provide guidance or advice, not always useful.

 In Next, Pinsent writes about his life, from early childhood in Newfoundland, touching briefly upon military service before describing the beginnings of his career in acting; first, on the stage, then later on TV, working his way up from walk-ons to speaking parts, etc.

In terms of style it's very much as if he's recounting his anecdotes directly, in a tone that recalls the aforementioned Ghost of the RCMP.

In the course of the book, Pinsent drops enough names to cover a decent-sized living-room floor - the index runs to nineteen pages - but never (well, rarely) with a disparaging word for anyone.

A relaxed, sometimes poignant, but more often witty insight into a life on the boards.

The third and final book was The Cold Dish, by Craig Johnson, the first in his series featuring Sheriff Walt Longmire (played by Robert Taylor in the successful A&E TV show) of the fictional Absaroka County, set against the backdrop of Wyoming's High Plains country.

Initially involving the murder of one of four high school seniors acquitted of the rape of a local Cheyenne girl, the story, one of revenge, also serves to introduce the central character, his friends and co-workers and the country in which the stories are set. Indeed, the plains of Wyoming, the Bighorn mountains, Powder River, all are brought to life in the same vivid detail as Spenser's Boston, or the Los Angeles shared by Harry Bosch and Elvis Cole.

In the first book, Walt Longmire is the long-serving sheriff of Absaroka County, facing re-election as he approaches twenty-five years in the job. Widowed three years previously, and with a daughter in Philadelphia, he's still rebuilding his life and contemplating retirement. Friends Henry Standing Bear, a fellow Vietnam veteran; Victoria 'Vic' Moretti, his chief deputy, transplanted from Philadelphia PD, and former Sheriff Lucian Connally, with whom Walt plays chess, make up his core of close friends.

I picked up the book on impulse, having seen the TV series on cable here in Ireland, and was pleased to find it quite similar in tone to Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone series, with a light touch that brought to mind Parker's other character, Spenser. That being said, the two are entirely different in style, with Johnson's Longmire a far less introspective soul than either of Mr. Parker's creations.

The Cold Dish is the first of 10 novels in the series, which as yet I have been unable to find on this side of the Atlantic; happily, there's always Amazon, and I'm currently midway through Book Three. The series is a more-than-worthwhile effort, and I encourage anyone interested in crime fiction to give it a try.

And on we go...

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