Book Briefs

The Night We Buried Road Dog by Jack Cady (DreamHaven, $27)

YOU WON'T FIND the words "Nebula Award-winning" on this book's cover or dust jacket, though the title novella sent a Nebula Award home with the author in 1993, while he still toiled for Pacific Lutheran University. Likewise you'll not see "Introduction by Peter S. Beagle" on the cover, and the praise from Peter Straub—the newest of many hosannas for Jack Cady—hides inside the front flap. But these faults lie with the publisher and its selling of the book, not with the author or his writing. Ghosts may arise from gestation of long-past pain, but Jack Cady's calling is to unfold their genealogy from midstream to the end, or sometimes only an end, of a given tale—ghosts do not, after all, quantify time, or life, or tales, by the rigid recitation from which humans derive them. "The Night We Buried Road Dog" begins with a man planting a 1947 Hudson coupe in an embankment over Montana's Highway 2; the enshrouded auto unleashes a patina rife with roadside haunts. "Our Ground and Every Fragrant Tree Is Shaded" confronts a small-town shopkeeper—a community pillar in the functional if not the symbolic sense—who just happens to disappear beneath harbor waters each evening after work, surfacing dutifully each morning a half-hour before work begins. To share more would trample the delicacy of Road Dog's tales. A brave, cursed, or infinitely sensitive man may know and understand the ghosts; from whichever daunting combination of the above, Jack Cady actually translates them into human signifiers. ANDREW HAMLIN Outlaw Mountain By J.A. Jance (Avon Books, $24)

THERE ARE TWO types of mystery fiction series: those that are memorable for their insights, intense drama, and hairpin turning points, and others you read because you enjoy spending time with familiar characters. Seattleite J.A. Jance's books about Sheriff Joanna Brady of Cochise County, Arizona, fall into that second category. Elected to her office after she solved the murder of her lawman husband, the now 30-year-old Joanna has grown into her often frustrating job—despite the doubts of critics both inside and outside of her department, and while simultaneously juggling her relationships with a young daughter and an overbearing mother. Throw in the occasional murder or criminal conspiracy, and you've got an unexpectedly satisfying series that's part cozy, part police procedural. Outlaw Mountain shows this mix working smoothly. The story leads off with the death of a wealthy, intoxicated widow, Alice Rogers, her body found impaled on a poisonous cactus. But the thorny succulent just added insult to injury: She was actually slain with an insulin overdose. By whom is the question, and Sheriff Brady has ample suspects—from Rogers' son, Clete, "a restaurateur with all the diplomacy of a mountain goat," who recently became mayor of the legendary town of Tombstone; to the deceased's much younger and conveniently missing handyman/boyfriend; to an amorphous gang of Mexican car-jackers. The trouble is, Joanna is continually being sidetracked from her investigation, not only by the actions of local eco-terrorists and her efforts to locate the family of a developmentally disabled man called Junior, but also by the increasingly ardent attentions of her wannabe novelist lover. To learn how the sheriff will ever handle all of these commitments and get to the bottom of rumors about a local drug ring is what keeps you reading, even through Outlaw's rather soap-operatic sections. As a stylist, Jance is more serviceable than lyrical, and I've known accountants who are less stingy with free advice than she is with character nuances. However, the exotic desert setting with its cavalcade of rabidly eccentric residents, Joanna's continuing struggle for respect in a male-dominated field, and her uneasy balancing of career with domestic demands all help raise Outlaw Mountain—and the previous six installments in Jance's Brady bunch—above the level of genre fluff. Sometimes, even for those of us who prefer our crime fiction tense and turbulent and imperfectly resolved, it's nice to sit back with a story that you know will leave the world better, rather than worse, in the end. J. KINGSTON PIERCE Song of the Exile Kiana Davenport (Ballantine Books, $24.95)

HILI PO IS A Hawaiian phrase meaning "to wander in the dark." Song of the Exile is just such a stumble in the night, through horror stories, love stories, history lessons, and verdant ambiance; when the light finally returns, it's hard to remember where you've been. Song of the Exile tries to be all or any of several different books. It is at once the story of a fated, desperate love between two people; an historical novel recounting the horrors of World War II and the untold sufferings of the "comfort women," the thousands of kidnapped sex slaves kept by Japanese troops; and the story of modern Hawaii—its quest for statehood and the struggle of Hawaii's native people to retain their culture and history in the face of change. Unfortunately, in trying to be all of these things, Song ends up being none of them. Davenport's compression of four or five books into one makes the reader feel as if she is ricocheting off walls in a lightless hallway, careening from lovers in Paris to vicious cruelties of war to the political turmoil surrounding Hawaiian statehood. The reader gets more involved in deciphering pronouns and events than in following a coherent story. Davenport has moments of brilliance—phrases and sentences so beautiful and visceral they beg a second reading—but exceptionally strong prose alone cannot save a book from an overambitious author. SAMANTHA ENDER

 
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