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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

DreadfulWater Shows Up

Reviewed: August 6, 2006
By: Thomas King
Publisher: HarperFlamingo
233 pages, $17.95

I haven't been able to find out just why Thomas King issued the first of his Thumps DreadfulWater mysteries under the open name of Hartley GoodWeather. The "secret" was out almost before the book hit the stands in 2002. I suppose it was a bit like Graham Green labeling some of his novels as "entertainments" or Evan Hunter writing all those 87th Precinct mysteries as Ed McBain. In this case, however, the very names were so much like the ones King and company used to give out as "authentic Indian names" on the Deaddog Cafe Comedy Hour that they were nearly enough to give the game away by themselves.

Then there's Thumps, with his Cherokee heritage, his love of photography and golf and his collection of postcards. These are all traits he shares with his creator, the serious academic professor of literature, award winning novelist, storyteller and Massey Lecturer.

There's really no need to be ashamed of writing a mystery novel. All it does is put a more accessible narrative framework around whatever else it is that you hope to accomplish. Green did it with spy stories. L.R. Wright did it with her Sunshine Coast mysteries. Peter Robinson is doing it with his Rankin series and James Lee Burke with his tales of Dave Robicheaux (sp). Some excellent writing is wrapped up in the work of these and many other scribes.

The only problem I had with this book, actually, is that it's set in the U.S.A. That's not immediately evident, and I suppose it came about as a further tip of the author's hat to his own roots, but it goes to show that some parts of our two nations are a lot like each other. My tip-off was the number of people carrying guns and visits to donut shops with never a mention of Tim Horton's.

It was probably the reference to Banff on the first page of the book that left me thinking "Canadian" for a bit, but it was right next to Lake Tahoe, so I should have caught on.

The circumstances could occur anywhere. An Indian Band (it's an American setting, and that's how the book puts it) has come into enough money to build a resort/casino complex amid some beautiful mountain scenery, not unlike what some member nations of the Council for Yukon First Nations seems to want to do. Condos and time shares are the way of the future, they hope, so the promoters are not at all happy to find a dead computer programmer slumped in a wingback chair staring with dead eyes at the beautiful vistas on the Buffalo Mountain Resort.

Thumps DreadfulWater is a former policeman who now makes a living as a photographer, which puts him on call for taking pictures of dead bodies in a place as small as Chinook. Besides that, Ora Mae, the resort's real estate agent, and Claire Merchant, the band manager, appear to have more faith in him that they do in Sheriff Duke Hockney.

Thumps thinks they presume too much. He quit being a police officer when his common-law partner and his daughter were murdered by a serial killer his unit never did catch, and he has no faith in his abilities as a sleuth. Thumps live alone with a bad tempered cat named Freeway, a chronically understocked refrigerator, a basement darkroom and a back garden that is rapidly going to seed. Most of the time he would rather sleep in, take pictures, develop them, and try to forget what happened on that California beach.

 Still, he values Claire in too may ways for him to ignore her demands. You see, her son, Stanley ("Stick") is a leader of the Red Hawks, a dissident group of young bloods within the the band who are opposed to the resort's development, and Stick seems to be the main suspect in Daniel Takashi's murder.

Stick is a smartass young buck with delusions of insight. He has a way with computers and a way with alienating anyone who doesn't agree with him. One of the few people who likes him is Moses Blood, a trailer dwelling elder who lives beside a home for dead trailers and seems to be a reincarnation of the character Chief Dan George played in "Little Big Man".

Structurally, the problem with this book is that it reads King hasn't decided if he wants to write a serious mystery or a comedy sketch. There's elements of both in here, and they jar a little when they run into each other. On the whole, however, the mystery develops a nice little twist, and if the main point of this book was introduce us to a cast of characters who could carry a series, then King has done a pretty good job.

The second book, The Red Power Murders, came out this year.

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