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Thursday, July 16, 2009

The award goes to......

Do you find yourself saying what's the worst book I've read all year? I do. I actually go out of my way to read a promisingly bad one each summer. This summer's brilliant title is Starvation Camp by an author who has been a "full-time professional writer since 1969. He has written more than fifty novels." Well quantity does not equal quality, to cite an outdated saw that suddenly presents relevancy.

The story concerns a Mountie whose friends are killed. The remainder of the book has him chasing the culprits across Alaska and down to California. A chase is a plot, right? (I do like the movie Duel). Starvation has little to do with the book, except the murders evidently killed roadhouse owners for food.

The book opens with McQuestion (yes his name in the book -- one of those names you cough over ten times because you can't believe the author chose it)sensing trouble. He jumps off his dogsled and rushes to the door where he removes his snowshoes. Pretty interesting how he wears snowshoes while dogsledding. Bill Pronzini writes, "The feeling of wrongness crawled on McQuestion's neck like a stinging brule fly." The Brule is a river in Wisconsin and Minnesota, if you didn't know. I'm not sure they have their own fly. This feeling of wrongness stems from the fact Molly Malone (taken from the popular song and used by Beckett) has not left her "night lantern" burning. I'd like to see her "day lantern." Inside he finds a "bowl of applesauce made from dried apples". Recipe anyone? After he leaves the crime scene, he heads into the swirling snow, he uses the word "whipping" where the northern lights are shining. His match goes out and "McQuestion said, Christ! in a thick, choked voice."

You can always get, from one of these oil pan liners some useful wisdom sooner or later; I do wish to pass it along for the edification of all gentle readers. Page 10: "Liquor didn't mix with sorrow and hate, either." Shhh, don't tell anyone else.

Along the way we meet "Three-Inch White". Nice name but how did he get it? And we learn that "Only a damn-fool cheechako lets his beard grow in Yukon winter." That has to be because razors grow on fir trees. A cheechako means tenderfoot or newcomer in Alaskan slang. Quiz time: Do you know what this sentence start means when you read it?: "He tamped out the dottle..." At least he did it before the verse in McQuestion's head started "repeating itself over and over." McQuestion rushes onward, page after page, but the criminals mush just as well. "Damn Ravenhill and his trail savvy." At times the tension really mounts: "The only mishap he suffered was a twisted ankle on the eighteenth day, when he broke a snowshoe harness on an ice hummock. It was a minor sprain -- and he had an extra pair of showshoes on the sledge." Whew! I was quite worried there for a millisecond or less. McQuestion presses onward. "He was sweating inside his clothing from the exertion of the climb." Don't you just hate it when you stop sweating outside of your clothing? Once in California he gets directions. "The policeman said it was over a mile away...and told him how to get there by streetcar." Wow a whole mile, you mean a twelve minute walk? It took him just under a half an hour by streetcar.

Don't worry readers, I slogged onward, chapter after chapter, in pursuit of the ending until I found him setting up characters for his next book, the fifty first? According to the back of the book this author has been called "Stunning". Read it and prepare to have the feeling of stunness crawl up your neck. It won't be pleasant.