That Thomas King sure is one tricky fella. Got to watch yourself around him, he’ll end up having you chasing your tail and chewing on your foot. Take his new book, Cold Skies from Harper Collins. He’s writing about characters he’s not mentioned in twelve years, when he was pretending to be this Hartley GoodWeather guy. Sounds like something a coyote would do.
At least this time there’s none of that tricky stuff going on. It’s his name all over the cover of the book not that GoodWeather guy. Still a bit confusing cause all the characters and locations are the same as they were in The Red Power Murders and DreadfulWater Shows Up. Now the latter isn’t about some flood or a well going bad, DreadfulWater is the name of the books’ lead character – ex-cop now fine art photographer – Thumps DreadfulWater.
So here he is trying to figure out how to make a living to keep body and soul together for him and his cat Freeway, when his old buddy Sherif Hockney approaches with an offer he spends the whole book trying to refuse – coming on and serving as a deputy sherif. If you’ve read the previous books you’ll know DreadfulWater left the police force after a serial killer took his girlfriend and her daughter and he was never able to catch the culprit. So going back to working for law enforcement isn’t high on his list of things he wants to do.
However, when bodies start popping up, DreadfulWater finds himself being drawn into the mystery almost against his will. Of course the fact some of the bodies happen to show up the neighbouring reserve where his on again off again girlfriend (Claire) happens to be Chief, doesn’t have anything to do with his interest.
What makes King such a delight to read is how well he understands the concept of telling a story. He creates wonderful multidimensional characters who, while taking on whatever tasks the plot of the book asks them to do, still get on with dealing with the rest of their lives as well.
So while DreadfulWater is trying to solve the mystery of why bodies seem to be growing in the town of Chinook – somewhere on the American prairies within easy driving distance of the Canadian border – he’s also dealing with health issues, wanting a new stove and his cat’s weird friendship with his new neighbour’s dog. At the risk of being accused of spoiling the plot – aside from having a dog who has stolen DreadfulWater’s cat’s affections, the new neighbour also bought the stove he wanted.
Humour aside, King deals with the health issues with his usual adroitness. Both characters’ reactions are so real as to be almost painful to read as we wince at their stubbornness and denial. However, watching them stumble through dealing with the reality of their new circumstances lends the book an air of humanity you don’t usually find in a mystery story.
Equally amazing is how he slowly draws us into the mystery until we, like DreadfulWater, are absorbed in desperately wanting to figure out what’s going on. As we’re seeing events through DreadfulWater’s eyes, most likely we’re also absorbing his opinions and views without realizing it. The fact King is able to influence us like that means we should be grateful he only uses his powers of storytelling for good and hasn’t gone over to the dark side by working in advertising or politics.
Some years ago the first thing I read by King was the collection of short stories, One Good Story That One. Well not only is Cold Skies another good story it offers further proof that while Thomas King might be one tricky guy, he’s also one good story teller. If you’re looking for a book which is both entertaining and thought provoking to read this summer, this is the one for you.