Sunday, July 18, 2010

Castle Freeman - All That I Have

Castle Freeman's "All That I Have" is on the surface quite a simple story about a county sheriff and the places he looks after. The towns have the expected collection of oddballs and eccentrics, who one assumes get like that because of the isolation from civilisation.

But as the story progresses what we find is something much darker. The outside world is causing change, and its not welcome. Some unknown, but very rich foreigners have arrived and in building an expensive, gated mansion, they drawn the attention of what passes for the local criminal community. Sheriff Lucian Wise however isn't prepared to go for the simple answer and pick up the obvious criminals. He's more interested in the darker forces at play. This refusal to bow down to accepted practice incurs the wrath of his colleagues and things start to get out of hand.

Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, everything that the Sheriff holds true is under threat. His relationship seems threatened, and the very thing that makes him who he is - his job - is under threat from an ambitious, if mechanically minded deputy. Sheriff Wise has to not only solve a crime, he has to protect a carefully nurtured method of doing things, one that has served him well, but is rooted in an older, simpler time.

The sense of a town simmering away, with its internal tensions held in check by the most minor of bounds, is not new to novels; this feels very much like some of Cormac McCarthy's work for instance. But Freeman does it well. The ending isn't particularly explosive, on the surface all the loose ends are tied up. But something doesn't quite feel right. Everything stays the same, but everything has also changed.

Castle Freeman has packed a great deal into this short book. It is a story that will linger and stimulate the mind long after many longer books have been forgotten.

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