DreadfulWater Shows Up
Harper Flamingo Canada/Harper Collins
Canadian Hardback First
Pages: 234: Price $32.00
Date Reviewed: July 14, 2003
Reveiwed by: Terry D'Auray © 2003
The name is Thumps. Thumps DreadfulWater. He drives an ancient Volvo, eats beans from a can, drowns his sugary breakfast cereal in Hawaiian punch, and talks to his cat, Freeway. While lacking the accoutrements, the sophistication or the panache of Bond, James Bond, Thumps turns out to be an enjoyable and pretty clever Indian.
Hartley GoodWeather's first novel introduces Thumps, a former California cop, now working as a photographer on a Chinook Indian reservation. The reservation, looking for a much needed financial infusion, has built an upscale tourist resort and casino. Claire Stickley, head of the tribal council and Thumps' occasional lover, was the primary proponent of the plan. Her teenage son Stick was its primary opponent. When one of the computer geeks responsible for the casino's gambling and security systems turns up dead, Stick naturally becomes the prime suspect. Thumps, as a favor to Claire, sets out to uncover the truth.
'DreadfulWater Shows Up' veers dangerously close to being a "cozy", a sub-genre of mysteries best described as mystery lite. Cozies have no blood or on-screen violence and the murders are civilized, polite and sanitized. The sleuth is most often an amateur, frequently female, who's good at noticing details and solving puzzles. Cozies are often set in quaint locales and involve some quirky little hook, like animals or recipes. 'Murder She Wrote' is a perfect TV cozy, as are the novels of Lillian Jackson Braun ('The Cat Who' series) or the-butler-with-the-candelabra-in the-library game Clue. Cozies are huge sellers, overpopulating the bestseller sections of most bookstores. Many people love them. I don't -- too cute, too corny, too bubblegum and kool-aid for my tastes.
The first few chapters of 'DreadfulWater Shows Up' screamed cozy. A man is found in a vacant condo sitting in an easy chair looking out the window, seemingly perfectly normal except that he's strangely still. Might he be dead? "Oh my!" says Jessica Fletcher, hands aflutter. Thumps DreadfulWater is called -- cozy writers relish cute, odd names. Then we meet Thumps in person, talking to his cat Freeway, who chews shoelaces, forcing Thumps to store his shoes next to the cereal boxes in the kitchen cupboard. Oh my!
As I read on, I was relieved to find that everything got better. The story grew more complex, to include industrial espionage and corporate chicanery. Thumps became less artificially eccentric and ignored his cat. The narrative pace quickened and the action toughened. The second dead body was discovered in far less sanitized circumstances, and by the third murder there were actually on-page gunshots. Certainly not hardboiled stuff, but not a rice cake either. It's always more rewarding to find a book looking up rather than letting down.
While neither the writing nor the plot is exceptional, they're both wholly adequate, with room to grow and the potential to deepen and develop. The cast of small-town characters is believable if not totally fleshed out. Although thin, the linear plot is well thought-out, with a credible twist and unusual untidy ending.
Thumps is clearly set up to become a series character, and I suspect, quite a popular one among the soft-boiled mystery reading set. He's quirky enough to be memorable and his self-deprecating persona is endearing. Any novel with an Indian character will invite the inevitable comparison to Tony Hillerman's Leaphorn and Chee, a comparison augmented by Hillerman's blurb on the back cover. Don't go there. There's minimal Indian lore in 'DreadfulWater Shows Up' and no Native American versus white man cultural conflict. Hillerman is Hillerman, and GoodWeather isn't, nor does he pretend to be.
'Dreadful Water Shows Up' starts out in the slow lane and gradually picks up speed. It moves from mystery lite to semi-soft-boiled, an entertaining light read that doesn't tax your brain but doesn't insult your intelligence. While it never gains the momentum or energy of a high-speed chase, it delivers a better than average ride.
Scribner's will release the US hardcover of 'DreadfulWater Shows Up' this September.