Monday, December 29, 2008

book review: "no such creature"*

I really like Canadian writer Giles Blunt and enjoy his series set in Northern Ontario. All his books feature interesting storylines and are populated by complex characters. The setting of Algonquin Bay (modeled on North Bay) is itself a character in the book - cold, dark and somewhat remote.

And the books really are dark, even compared to other murder mysteries. By The Time You Read This, the last in the series featuring police detective John Cardinal, opens with the suicide of Cardinal's wife. I found it heart-wrenching and I can understand why the author chose a change of pace for his latest novel.

No Such Creature is in some ways very different from Blunt's police procedurals but despite the injection of humour and the relocation to sunnier climes there are a couple of twists that are no less devastating than the author's previous novels.

"Tooling across the American southwest in their giant Winnebago, Max and his nephew, Owen, seem harmless enough, the actorly old fellow spouting Shakespeare like a faucet while his young charge trots him through select tourist destinations along the road. But appearances, as you might imagine, can be deceiving.

Old Max is actually a master thief, and young Owen's summer vacation is his careful apprenticeship in a life of crime. Pulling heists is scary enough, but ominous signs point to the alarming fact that The Subtractors are on their tail, criminal bogeymen who stop at nothing to steal from other thieves. The road trip soon turns into a chase, by turns comic and horrifying. The most disturbing twist: Owen's slow realization that the person he loves most in the world is the one who can do him the most harm."

The book features snappy dialogue, characters that are larger than life, events that test the "willing suspension of disbelief" and little touches or irony that have the ring of authenticity. I was reminded of both Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen but I never felt like I had read this book somewhere before.

In some ways, Blunt tries to do too many things with this novel. I was never sure if I was reading a caper, coming of age book or a story about fathers and sons. But Blunt mostly succeeds in creating a story that's about all of these things. Certainly, I cared about the characters, laughed out loud several times, felt the mountain tension and found myself turning pages compulsively.

No Such Creature is entertaining, amusing, heart-breaking and surprising. You might be disappointed in the ending but you will never be bored.

And you know, those books where you can see the ending coming a mile away? Even with lots of foreshadowing, I was still wondering what would happen ten pages from the end.

You can read an excerpt here.

*This is book was sent to me via Library Thing's Early Reviewer Program.

1 comment:

The Maven said...

Hmmm, that sounds very good! I might have to add that to my pile of books to read. I love to read Canadian when I can, too. Thanks!