Thursday, 17 March 2011

Vermont and All That I Have by Castle Freeman (2009)

All That I Have is a novel by Castle Freeman set in rural southern Vermont around the Green Mountain National Forest region of the state. Referred to as the 'granite backbone' of the state, the forest was established in 1932, as a result of uncontrolled over-logging, fire and flooding. The protagonist is Lucian Wing, a local county sheriff whose career path has been tied to his home state. Having chosen the Navy out of school over college but not having much care for ships (Vermont is New England’s only landlocked state) he wound up in port patrol dealing with drunks. That experience helped him get into the state police back in Vermont after a brief stint working in the forest for his uncle's logging business. After a year and a half of that he quit to become the local sheriff’s deputy, eventually taking over, unopposed in election, from the retiring sheriff himself. In the U.S. the role of the sheriff varies from state to state. In Vermont the elected sheriff is primarily an officer of the County Court, but in the absence of a local police force in rural towns law enforcement patrol is performed as well. As Lucian himself explains due to the costs of the sheriff’s department being paid for by the taxpayers this can lead to more bookkeeping work than actual policing when the town boards and treasurers want to "bite every dime you spend". All That I Have is about dealing with that unexciting side of sheriffing, which as Lucian describes it "is like being the bouncer at the Ladies' Aid Lunch: when things are going normally, they don't work you too hard".

I’d definitely recommend All That I Have to anyone looking for a fast-paced easy read. I don’t quite get the Cormac McCarthy comparisons, other than that they both have an economical style of prose. Freeman’s writing has a lighter semi-comic tone, halfway between the small-town quirkiness of the Coen Brothers' Fargo and the dry wisecracking of Philip Marlowe. The plot itself is pure detective-noir, albeit relocated to a rural setting – an item belonging to some rich mysterious foreigners goes missing and the chief culprit can’t be located. It’s entertaining stuff, and Freeman has a natural gift for dialogue and a Chandler-esque way with a simile.

Next: Massachusetts

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