Sheriff Lucian Wing goes to the aid of a pair of young runaways, Duncan and Pamela, who have fled to his backwoods county jurisdiction in Vermont. The girl’s powerful stepfather New York has set a smoothly menacing lawyer and well-armed thugs on their trail. At the same time Wing must deal with his wayward wife’s chronic infidelity; the snobbery of Pamela’s cosmopolitan mother; the dubious assistance of a demented World War Two enthusiast – and even the climactic, chaotic onset of a prodigious specimen of the local wildlife. Amidst it all, can Wing bring Duncan and Pamela to safety?
Unsurprisingly as a fan of American crime fiction, most notably those books set in small backwoods communities, Castle Freeman is a firm favourite of mine. Having read both the previous books in the Sheriff Lucian Wing series, All That I Have and Old Number Five, I am delighted to share my thoughts on the latest addition to the series, Children Of The Valley…
I think the joy of these books is the fact, that although the plotlines are relatively slight, Freeman is a master of characterisation. Sheriff Wing embodies all the cynicism and dry wit that has been the stock of hardboiled crime fiction from the year dot. Be it in his interactions with the local ne’er-do-wells, his feisty wife Clementine, his pillar of the local community father-in-law, or the assorted branches of law enforcement that provide law and order across the county and state, Wing is an absolute tonic. The book is suffused with caustic asides and peppered with snappy retorts, as Wing encounters a few individuals during this case that get his dander up, stupidly belittling his position as the main law enforcer in the town, but finding to their cost that this cookie is a whole lot smarter than they think. To underestimate Sheriff Wing is a dangerous path to take.
That’s not to say that his aptness for flippancy decreases his standing or professional pride in any way and as he says himself, “ In my line of work you can’t usually make a bad thing good, or even much better than it was; but sometimes you can make a bad thing go be bad someplace else for a while. If you can get that, I say take it.” He possesses an innate skill for communicating with people, getting others on side and endeavouring to achieve if not the best outcome, something that is a mere hair breadth’s away from it, with the least collateral damage as he can. He does garner some modicum of respect from his peers both ungrudgingly and grudgingly, and is a safe pair of hands in a crisis, being particularly adept at ‘de-escalating’ dangerous situations in his own unique style.
Freeman’s control of pace and plot is always sublime, as he writes within a compressed page count, but this book along with his previous demonstrates once again the sparse and taut prose that is such a part of his writing style, with the book racing towards the final showdown. Equally, the landscape of Wing’s small backwoods jurisdiction is vividly rendered, and serves as a good counterpoint to the intrusion of a big city slime-ball, endearing us even more to Wing’s stomping ground with its strange and colourful inhabitants. If you love characters like those in Elmore Leonard’s Raylan series or in the superb Nobody Move by Denis Johnson, I think Children Of The Valley will more than fit the bill.
In fact why not read the whole Lucian Wing series? Recommended.
(With thanks to Duckworth Books for the ARC)
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