Thursday, December 2

Gray Ghost - William G Tapply

Now part-owner of Kate's Bait and Tackle, lightning-induced amnesiac Stoney Calhoun is settling in to his new life in Maine. Though his past is opaque, Stoney's focus is on the present - he has a job he enjoys, a home in the woods, a faithful dog (named for Ralph Waldo Emerson), a relationship that's complicated but sound, and he's steadily making his way through the two thousand page American Literature anthology he picked up at a second-hand book shop. from time to time he comes across writing he knows he's read before, but his previous life is still a blank.
When Stoney takes out writer and college professor Paul Vecchio early one morning, he's not optimistic - the man's most reluctant to leave behind his electronic gadgets, and then he won't even pee over the side of the boat but insists on pulling the boat in to one of the calendar islands dotted about the bay, so named because there are close to 365 of them.
Quarantine Island has a history - in 1918 immigrants were kept there in case they brought the deadly Spanish flu with them. In February of that year a fire broke out - between the flames and the frigid winter air, every inhabitants on the island, men, women, children and the nuns ministering to them, died. Worse, there's a suspicion the fire was deliberately lit by citizens fearful of contagion and prejudiced against immigrants. The charred, mutilated body Vecchio discovers is far more recently dead.

This is the second Stoney Calhoun novel, and the elements I so enjoyed in Bitch Creek continue - the writing is lucid and vivid, detailed yet sparse, and the characters are complex. Stoney is a contradiction of a man, both simple, straightforward and direct, yet complex, well trained and layered. He has very clear ideas about where the lines he won't cross are, and even if they don't always make sense to others, he sticks to them. This creates tension in his relationship with Dickman, the local sheriff, and cause him to step back from Kate when she's conflicted about their relationship; although they seem somewhat arbitrary and serve to make him a little less likable, these kinds of traits also add to the depth of his character.
The Man in the Suit, an anonymous government representative tasked with keeping tabs on the potential for Stoney's memory returning, also makes an appearance, in no small part setting the stage for the final in this too-short series.
I can't read the novels when hungry, because Tapply's descriptions of the steaks he cooks when expecting Kate to come by are so vivid. I've also learned a number of things I'd otherwise have been oblivious to; in this instance the most vivid one is the definition of keelhauling, something I'd previously given little thought to but heard of and assumed was considerably more benign than it is. I so enjoyed Gray Ghost that I've not only borrowed its sequel but begun reading it before writing this review (and the sadly many other reviews patiently waiting in line). - Alex

The Stoney Calhoun trilogy:
Bitch Creek
Grey Ghost
Dark Tiger

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