Last October on the way from Toronto to Baltimore for Bouchercon, Declan Burke and I stopped in Brattleboro, Vermont and spent a very pleasant couple hours in Mystery on Main Street bookstore with the owner, David, and a few friends. It's a great place.
As we were leaving I looked at the table of 'local authors,' and asked David to recommend a book. He mentioned a few and I bought, Go With Me by Castle Freeman Jr. I think I chose it because the 'about the author' said Castle Freeman, "Has been a regular essayist for the Old Farmer's Almanac," and I've never seen that on a novel.
On the weekend I finally got around to reading the book and it's fantastic. The flap says:
The Vermont hill country is the stark, vivid setting for this gripping and entertaining story of bold determination. The local villain, Blackway, is making life hellish for Lillian, a young woman from parts elsewhere. Her boyfriend has fled the state in fear, and local law enforcement can do nothing to protect her. She resolves, however, to stand her ground, and to fight back. A pair of unlikely allies – Lester, a crafty old-timer, and Nate, a powerful but naive youth – join her cause, understanding that there is no point in taking up the challenge unless you’re willing to “go through.” In this modern-day drama, a kind of Greek chorus – wry, witty, digressive; obsessively, amusingly reminiscent; skeptical, opinionated, and not always entirely sober – enriches the telling of this unforgettable tale as the reader follows the threesome’s progress on their dangerous, suspenseful quest.
Which is all true, but the incredible writing style adds so much. Direct, clear, not a wasted word. The book's only 160 pages and there's more insight into the characters than in most books four times the length.
One of the old guys, Whizzer, tells a story about some loggers who disappeared one winter. They were from Quebec and knew how to live in the woods, so it must have been foul play, but they were never found.
That passage got me thinking about another book I read recently that mentioned guys from Quebec working in the woods, Louise Penny's The Murder Stone, the fourth Inspecter Gamache mystery. A much different book, I'd say that Louise Penny's novels are very much traditional small village murder mysteries, "cozies," set in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, but they're also completely modern because of the completely modern characters.
The opening of The Murder Stone describes the Manoir Bellechasse, built more than a hundred years ago by the robber barons of Montreal, Boston and New York. Well, as it says, "They didn't actually dirty their own hands. What clung to them was something else entirely. No, these men hired men with names like Zoétique, Télesphore and Honoré to hack down the massive and ancient forests."
The locations of these two books are only seperated by a few hundred miles, but also by an international border and some very different cultures. The writing styles here are very different, too, but I found them both to be fantastic.