Wednesday, September 24, 2008

In the early nineties, John Cage and Merce Cunningham designed a modern dance work they called Oceans. It's a huge concept--14 dancers, more than a hundred musicians. It's meant to be staged in the round in a single ninety minute presentation. It takes a special venue and there aren't many around. Fortunately, some bright people here in Minnesota thought they could handle it. And I got to attend one of three performances.

Oceans was held in a Martin Marietta Materials quarry near St. Cloud, in the middle of Minnesota. A moody, spectacular quarry, on moody rainy evening. We were a couple of hundred feet down into the earth. A September night, in bleachers surrounded by local musicians, including the St. Cloud Symphony. Walker Art Center, Benedicta Arts Center and Northrop Dance were the visionary organizations that came together to produce a once-in-a-lifetime experience, under spitting clouds and fitful breezes. I can't tell you how impressive and outstanding the evening was.

Bouchercon, the International Fan Mystery Convention, is almost upon us and I’m looking forward to reconnecting with friends and again visiting a fine city.

My latest books, “Bloody Halls” and “The Case of the Deceiving Don” as well as the re-issue of Sean Sean’s first adventure, “The Case of the Greedy Lawyers,” are all selling well, if not spectacularly

Here’s a review of another important novel.

Blackheart Highway
Author: Richard Barre
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group
ISBN: 0-425-16903-0

An early warning. Start this when you have plenty of time to read. You’ll find it nearly impossible to lay it aside. The story grabs you from page one and hardly lets go until the very end. Anyone who has read Barre’s other novels knows he has developed into a major talent. And he just keeps getting better. I believe that this novel, will one day be regarded as a classic.

The writing is economic, spare, and careful. There simply are no wasted words. Every character is sharply etched, distinct and consistent throughout. The terse prose is evocative of the situations and at times beautifully descriptive.

Barre’s protagonist, Viet Nam vet Wil Hardesty, is a California P.I. with plenty of personal baggage. He goes to Bakersfield with his current inamorata, a woman toward whom he’s developing some serious intentions. The presence of Kari Thayer in this book gives the author several opportunities to vary the pace and substitute one kind of tension for another. Barre uses this device judiciously and very effectively.

The trip to Bakersfield is intended to be merely a short vacation, but due to an altercation in a bookstore, Bakersfield becomes aware of Hardesty and his capabilities. Inevitably, that leads to Hardesty being drawn into a set of circumstances with roots in the not too distant past. It’s a case that involves big music, big oil, greed, big money, multiple murders, and other criminal behavior.

The genius of the author is displayed in the careful way in which circumstance logically leads to other circumstances, entwines with rising tension and increasing pace, all calculated to carry the reader to the final, logical, conclusions. The communities, the surrounding desert and man’s intrusive presence are brought forth in ways that allow us to viscerally experience the truck stop and taste the dust. Multiple layers and threads weave through the book with care. This is a complex novel with something to say about relationships, but we are never confused, never lost. BLACKHEART HIGHWAY is a stunning accomplishment.