Sunday, December 30, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Chasing Smoke by Bill Cameron

Author Bill Cameron
     I first heard of author Bill Cameron after reading 5 on Friday feature about him on Jen's Book Thoughts. The 5 on Friday feature has a different author each week answer five questions about themselves, some about their writing, some more personal. It is a nice way to humanize the name behind the books. I knew as I was reading Mr. Cameron's answers that I had to read one of his books. He answered the questions honestly, as I'm sure all participants do, but also with humor and a sardonic tone. Here is an excerpt:
My favorite place to read is: My wife would probably say it was the bathroom. I scoff at that notion. (Ahem.) I say it’s my backyard, though of course the weather has to cooperate. Which, since I live in Portland, doesn't happen often enough to suit me. Sometimes I sit in the swing, sometimes in the Beverage Chair, and sometimes the hammock (though the hammock often causes napping to occur). They’re all equally awesome. (Though, I suppose, the bathroom is pretty great too.)  
     Although the answers were probably only six or seven paragraphs, I knew that if his novels were written similarly, I couldn't go wrong.

     I chose Chasing Smoke, but as I write this I don't remember why. The novel features Portland, Oregon, homicide Detective Thomas "Skin" Kadash. I later learned there are a series of novels that feature Skin Kadash. Chasing Smoke was preceded by Lost Dog (which I could only find as an eBook from Amazon), and followed by Day One and County Line
     Chasing Smoke was not a disappointment, both in terms of the writing style I was hoping for and a good, hard-boiled mystery. The story was told in the first person of Det. Kadash, who is near the end of his career. He is also not working as a result of a temporary disability; bladder cancer. While convalescing, his partner asks him to help take a look at a death she is investigating, the latest in a series of deaths of cancer patients all seen by the same doctor as Det. Kadash. The deaths all appear to be suicides, but the daughter of one of the victims thinks they are murder. As Det. Kadash looks into it, he doesn't find much other than a few coincidences. In the process, he ruffles feathers that a lot of people would have preferred have been left undisturbed. 
     Like every good hard-boiled mystery, the protagonist has a difficult time following the rules, has an adversarial relationship with his supervisor, and is better at antagonizing the people he interviews than getting valuable information from them. He has sharp wit, razor tongue, and a gift for sarcasm. But he is also very introspective, although often seems ambivalent, about his career, love life, and cancer. Kadash seems likable to those who really know him, but sadly, that is a small group of people. And he doesn't seem to have a problem making the group smaller. 

     The book was a little slow to get started; it took about a third of the way through the book to get that feeling of being there and caring about the hero that is so important to a good mystery. There was also sideline about a romantic interest of Det. Kadash, Sylvia. It was a small portion of the book and seemed somewhat insignificant, just not enough about it for me to really care about either Sylvia or how her role mattered to Kadash.  
     Kadash talked about basic training and being in Vietnam, and a childhood friend of his being killed in Vietnam. However, in another part of the book Kadash said he was 10 years old in 1967. That would have made him only 18 years old in 1975; US involvement in Vietnam ended the Spring of that year, making Kadash and his friend a little young to be in basic training preparing to be sent there. A minor inconsistency, but sometimes those little things that are easily avoidable sticks in my craw throughout a book. 
     *** EDIT: Just after publishing this review, I discovered Mr. Cameron also discovered his inconsistency in Det. Kadash's age; he blogged about on his site. And I should restate that although I noticed the age issue, it didn't take away from my enjoying the story, it's just something I noticed. *** 

     I enjoyed Chasing Smoke, especially the second half. My first impression about Bill Cameron was right: he is fun to read. A smartass of the first order!

Cameron, Bill. Chasing Smoke. Big Earth Publishing, October 15, 2008.
ISBN-13: 9781606480199

1 comment:

Jen Forbus said...

You are on a roll with the book reviews here, George! Three in a row. I'm glad you enjoyed Bill's book!