Monday, April 15, 2013

All That I Have by Castle Freeman

All that I Have by Castle Freeman is a light comedy thriller with a plot crying out for a movie adaptation and a laconic narrator who is immediately engaging in a gruff, maverick-with-a-heart-of-gold sort of way. It’s good fun, a finely written diversion.

The novel begins with an incident that sets the tone: a man of Russian descent is found naked and badly battered and tied to a tree. You can write this in two ways: seriously, as drama, or for laughs. Here, it’s predominantly the latter. What unfolds is a mystery involving Russian mafioso unaccountably holed up in rural Vermont, and a local tearaway for whom our sheriff narrator appears, for reasons not initially explained, to have something of a soft spot. Wing is Sheriff Bell from No Country for Old Men without the ponderous religiosity and with a shade more ability. As the drama unfolds he is determined not to let things get out of hand, both in the investigation and in his private life. Circumstances conspire to make these aspirations increasingly difficult to achieve, but he perseveres with dogged determination and good nature. All of this is told with some brio, and the narrative rattles along at a fine pace, the short chapters pitching up one after the other in furious combination.

It’s good stuff, very enjoyable. It’s probably more than this, however: and for that, we must thank the central character, Sheriff Wing. He is a fascinating creation, possessed of a philosophy of life and, in particular, crime management, which is singular to say the least, but which is still rendered in a credible way. I could believe in a Sheriff Wing whose approach to dealing with crime is to “hold back and a thing develop”. I could believe in a Sheriff who contemptuously dismisses the democratic process behind his election to office by suggesting that - for very good reason - people getting onto an airliner don’t hold an election to decide which of them is going to be pilot, but rather rely on the one who is actually trained to fulfil the role. Wing is a man who knows his abilities and, more importantly, his limitations.

All That I Have is a short book, best taken in one reading. It works on a number of levels and is definitely worth a read.

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