Mys­tery treads into El­more Leonard coun­try

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT -

FOR a tac­i­turn farmer who just wants to mind his own busi­ness, Vir­gil Cain sure does a lot of sleuthing with­out ever seem­ing to be con­sciously de­tec­ti­fy­ing.

In On­tario writer Brad Smith’s imag­i­nary world, Cain is a re­tired mi­nor league base­ball player from ru­ral Que­bec now liv­ing on an iso­lated prop­erty in up­state New York.

When a pile of self-cen­tred, ego­tis­ti­cal, de­vi­ous, schem­ing and cun­ning Hol­ly­wood types show up in the neigh­bour­hood film­ing a his­tor­i­cal movie, mur­der soon fol­lows.

Shoot the Dog is Smith’s third Cain mys­tery, fol­low­ing on Red Means Run and Crow’s Land­ing.

The on-the-edge char­ac­ters and gritty and witty dia­logue are from El­more Leonard ter­ri­tory, but the vi­o­lence is cer­tainly muted; the reader hears about the mur­ders af­ter the deeds are done.

It’s not a hard and fast rule the pro­tag­o­nist in a mys­tery novel must be a po­lice of­fi­cer or pri­vate de­tec­tive — Miss Marple was nei­ther — but Vir­gil seems to find things out just by hang­ing around and be­ing him­self, and not ac­tively us­ing his lit­tle grey cells to fer­ret out clues.

Smith does vir­tu­ally noth­ing to es­tab­lish Vir­gil’s back­ground. He ig­nores many au­thors’ stan­dard catch-up for read­ers new to a se­ries: no back­ground on Vir­gil in the first chap­ter, vir­tu­ally no men­tion of what hap­pened in pre­vi­ous books, no Cole’s Notes on Claire Marc­hand, a woman with whom Vir­gil ob­vi­ously has a re­la­tion­ship of some sort.

Vir­gil’s name, all mu­sic-loving boomers should know, is the same as the nar­ra­tor of the clas­sic song The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down by root­srock group the Band.

Af­ter a while, the keen-eyed reader picks up that Claire is a po­lice of­fi­cer, but it’s prob­a­bly halfway through the book when it is made clear she’s in the state po­lice and is a pretty se­nior in­ves­ti­ga­tor.

Smith just as­sumes read­ers will sort it all out with­out be­ing hit over the head with de­tails.

Shoot the Dog — a deroga­tory movie term to de­scribe a plot de­vice to help slow au­di­ence mem­bers iden­tify the vil­lain — moves quickly and is filled with great dia­logue.

Vir­gil is a bright guy, but if the movie peo­ple want to treat all ru­ral folk as slow and in­fe­rior, well, yup, he’ll bide his time while rent­ing them two of his horses and pick­ing up se­ri­ous coin on set as a wran­gler.

The movie pro­duc­ers have the rights to a best-sell­ing his­tor­i­cal novel about a pi­o­neer sin­gle woman, but Fron­tier Woman lacks de­tails they’d pre­fer to have, such as na­tives mas­sacring set­tlers. They are also — not much of a spoiler — bluff­ing about hav­ing enough money to make the movie.

En­ter mil­lion­aire na­tive casino op­er­a­tor Ron­nie Red Hawk, who en­tered prison a low-life white man and emerged pro­claim­ing na­tive an­ces­try.

He’s also got a thing for Kari Kar­son, a star­let who’s a klep­to­ma­niac with sub­stance-abuse is­sues — gosh, who could that be in real life? — whom Red Hawk would pre­fer to see in the film he’s bankrolling than the gen­uine ac­tor who plays the lead role.

Vir­gil wouldn’t care one way or the other, ex­cept there’s a 10-year-old girl act­ing in the film who’s a de­cent hu­man be­ing, and as the bod­ies start pil­ing up, Vir­gil reck­ons no one’s watch­ing out for the lit­tle girl.

Shoot the Dog is a great read, but the end­ing comes all rather abruptly, leav­ing lots of plot threads hang­ing, which, read­ers may sup­pose, is a lot like real life.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.