Monday September 01, 2014

Revisiting familiar fishing detective

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Welcome to Week XCVI of 'Fishing Parkland Shorelines'. Like most of us I am a novice fisherman, loving to fish, but far from an expert. In the following weeks I'll attempt to give those anglers who love to fish but just don't have access to a boat, a look at some of the options in the Yorkton area where you can fish from shore, and hopefully catch some fish.

April is the month of no fishing, the ice becoming unsafe, seasons closing, and spring still in flux.

So it is a good time to crack a book, or two, and relax in anticipation of a new season around the corner.

A couple of books worth a fishing read are new releases from a pair of authors I reviewed books from early in 2013; Victoria Houston and Michael Gordon.

Houston's 'Dead Insider' is the 13th in her long-running Loon Lake Mystery Series, while Gordon offers up 'You're Next' as the third in his own MacDuff Brooks Mystery series.

Gordon's series is one with developing plot lines connecting one book to another, although 'You're Next' has to work to keep the connections in place.

"In this third part of the Macduff Brooks fly fishing mystery series, Macduff and a client fishing on the Madison River in Montana watch as a drift boat, with only one person on the boat, covered with a wicker basket and a wreath of mistletoe, approaches them. When closer, the person proves to be a friend of Macduff with a sign across a front vest of explosives that reads; "You're next Lucinda!" The day is June 21st; the Summer Solstice. On the fall equinox the pattern is repeated on the North Platte River in Wyoming. What will happen on the Winter Solstice?," details the book cover.

As a story line the connection to the Solstices isn't new, but it works well enough.

And the subplots from Gordon's previous books all make an appearance although the connection to Brooks' main foes Juan Pablo Herzog and Abdul Khaliq Isfahani seemed rather forced after the first introduction.

In some respects forced is a theme in 'You're Next' although some of that feeling may come from familiarity as the author explains.

"Characters that may be well defined come and go," said author Gordon via email. "I think each new book needs a new character. My new book ends the life of one character. You are right that once established, a character doesn't have to be re-described. Height, hair, features, weight, etc. etc. But I spend a lot of time checking what I said about a specific character in the previous books. I have a binder with three sections. One is a timeline chapter by chapter with what happens in each chapter. A second is a character list with extracts of earlier descriptions. The last a half-dozen pages on how I choose to use hyphens, preferred spelling (bin Laden v. Bin Laden, honour/honor, former by a Brit character who is speaking, etc). I think earlier editions in a continuing saga can add time that is not needed with all new stand-alone novels."

But here the issues run a bit deeper than an author working with some expectation his reader knows his characters from previous books.

The hero Brooks seems to become addle-minded in this book. After finding trouble previously returning to a university he once worked at, he does it again, and yes its recognized. Once is the draw of the past, two verges on a dumb decision.

Later in the book they know a killer is coming and the events have all tied to the local rivers around where Brooks lives. Me, I am in Toronto or Paris. He stays of course, without so much as a bodyguard. I wonder what happens?

Gordon likes the latest book.

"I don't like to put a manuscript to bed (send to publisher) without believing its the best yet," he said.

"The second of the three, that I now call the Mountain West Trilogy - Crosses to Bear - won the Royal Palm first place medal by the Florida Writers Association. It has the more dramatic cover which my grandchildren (teens) love - they think the other two covers with fishing photos are "dullsville."

"But fishing folk like the third with the drift boat, river and mountain."

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Well I would say I'm a fisher folk and I can't agree with the view 'You're Next' is the best of the trilogy. In fact, it's the opposite. This is the weak sister that was bearable based on having read the previous two books, so you have to carry through in hope things upswing. They really didn't, but at least I am in a place where I can give the next book in the series a read.

I do have hopes Gordon gets Brooks back on track, as he is planning a change of place for the main character.

"As you'll see in April (the fourth and first of a southeast trilogy (Florida, Cuba, Bahamas) trilogy, will have a cover more along the lines of Crosses to Bear," said Gordon.

"… The next three of the saga will carry on the same characters. After all, it took Sherlock years to finally confront Moriarty. If I want to end the series Macduff Brooks and Juan Pablo Herzog may have a fight on the top of Grand Teton and fall off to their deaths (maybe - is Sherlock really dead?)

"April's release involves the Florida gill net ban that was adopted in 1994 and while I was about half through with the book, flared up again. Bodies found wrapped in a gill net. The fifth - which I have a draft for the first quarter - is set partly in Cuba (bone fishing) and otherwise in Florida and Montana.

"I'm on a schedule of publishing about every eight to nine months. The three to-date have been April 2012, November 2012, July 2013, and I'll start that kind of rotation again with the fourth in April of this year. I'm retired but do some legal consulting (foreign law issues). It would be easier to do a book annually but I have no trouble with the present schedule. Part of this schedule is due to age. I'm close to 79, in good health, but one never knows. (My goal is to guide in Montana for Project Healing Waters once again in the summer of 2016 just after I turn 80.)"

While 'You're Next' was not as good as earlier reads in the trilogy, it has kept me a fan of Brooks and his author Gordon, so I am looking forward to the next effort later this spring.

'Dead Insider' on the other hand was simply an enjoyable, quick read. Weighing in at just a smidgen over 200-pages, the book continues a trend with the series, to be easy reads, the kind which are ideal for a weekend at the lake.

"I have a "natural arc" of writing a story that takes 200 to 250 pages -- a feeling more than a plan," said Houston. "Not sure why except I work hard to keep my descriptive passages succinct. I am one of those people who is visually attuned to how words, sentences, graphs look on the page. And I hate books that have too much description.

"As far as back story goes -- it is always a challenge to introduce my recurring characters in ways that aren't repetitive for the reader of earlier books in the series. So I don't shorten their back story so much as I try to keep it fresh -- and brief."

With any series a writing regime seems to emerge for the author.

"I've never been able to take less time to write a book: still requires about two months of thinking through the murder(s), secondary characters who may or may not be the bad actors, and going through my files to research the potential crimes and other elements that have caught my eye during the past year," said Houston. "I read too many newspapers -- the daily New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, a couple local weeklies and various magazines. Then I write up a one-page synopsis of the story as I think it will unfold, (it always changes), and brief profiles of secondary characters, which I put in a sketch book.

"Once I start to write it always takes me a solid nine months from beginning to end."

And of course there has to be time to fish too.

"I still manage to spend some time on the water -- and hang out with lots of fishermen," said Houston. "I am the daughter of a fanatic muskie fisherman who took up fly fishing late in life. Also, our lake region where I live has a culture that has always been and will be about fishing."

For a feel of the book the back cover sums things up nicely.

"In the midst of a catastrophic August rainstorm, a grisly discovery shatters the serenity of a summer evening in northern Wisconsin. Moving quickly to prevent a panic among tourists, Loon Lake Police Chief Lewellyn Ferris enlists the forensic and interrogation skills of her close friend and fellow fly fisherman, retired dentist "Doc" Osborne. Within hours of launching their investigation, they find themselves faced with a national media circus, as Loon Lake becomes the focus of a murderous scenario that links the murder to the race for the U.S. Senate by a woman who is heir to a Northwoods fortune and other, less savory, family traditions.

"In the meantime, Doc Osbourne's eldest daughter, Mallory, enters into a relationship that may put her life at risk – unless her father and Chief Ferris can find the killer stalking the residents of Loon Lake."

I have become a definite fan of the feisty Loon Lake police chief, and 'Doc' Osborne, a man without the real hard credentials to even be involved, but a guy that finds a way to help out on every case.

Since there is a growing catalogue of books in the series, and I've happily read several now, a new book is like slipping into a favourite tattered old sweater on a cool night. You know it will make you feel better just because it's so comfy, and that is what books in the Loon Lake Series are, comfortable reads with well-understood characters.

Oh, Houston mixes in a few new faces every case, but the core is like turning on Seinfeld, knowing the regular cast are always there.

And the best news is more is to come from Houston too.

"The 14th book in the series, 'Dead Lil' Hustler', will hit the shelves in early June," she said, adding "I am about to start my next one."

Of the two books, 'Dead Insider' is the better read, but it's not a contest either. Both books, because of their natural connections to the sport of fishing which we all enjoy, are certainly worth a read.

And I do hope to be reviewing the next offerings from both Gordon and Houston in the coming weeks.



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