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Review: Salvage by Stephen Maher August 25, 2016

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Canadian content.
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cover89220-mediumThis was supposed to be a Netgalley review, and I did post it over there, but I was a bit late in getting to this one. I’m not a fan of pdfs for novels. Great for magazines, comics, and illustrated nonfiction, but for novels, give me epubs. And the publisher gave me a pdf.

However… the description of the book intrigued me more than a little. I ended up buying a very reasonably priced epub through Kobo and raced through the book.

Stephen Maher is better known for his political journalism than his novels — this is his second — but after this one, that may change. His first novel, Deadline, was an Ottawa-based, politically-tinged mystery novel, and it was pretty good. But Maher’s roots are down east; he’s lived and worked in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, and Salvage is set in small town Nova Scotia.

Maybe it’s partly because I left Nova Scotia 30 years ago (after university in Halifax) and have been in Ottawa since, but Salvage feels fresher and more vibrant than Deadline. The characters feel bigger and broader in some respects, but then a south shore sailor like Philip Scarnum, who’s smart and educated but often plays the hick, is bound to be a different kind of person from the usual Ottawa media, bureaucracy, and politics types. He’s capable of being cold and amoral in the pursuit of survival, though, so maybe not all that different…

The characters sometimes feel a little larger than life. There’s a definite pulpishness around the edges, but it’s the good kind, not the disposable trash kind. Maher gives the impression of knowing his locale and its kind of people, and he knows more about boats and sailing than I do, so I can’t criticize that. He also manages to build up the suspense as he goes. His prose is clean clear, the dialogue generally realistic. It’s the kind of book you want to keep reading.

This is suspense, not mystery; it becomes clear who the bad guys are fairly quickly, and there aren’t too many twists along the way, but Scarnum is weaving his way through a tangled plot involving different factions. That most of the characters have known each other for many years, living in a small town, makes things more difficult. Loyalties are divided, relationships messy. It all culminates in confrontation and violence and a satisfying payoff.

Somewhere, I hope, someone’s thinking of putting together a financing deal to make a film based on this novel, maybe with Allan Hawco as Scarnum. Most of the Canadian movie makers I can think of lean towards the artsier end of cinema, but there must be someone who’d like to bust loose with an east coast smugglers’n’gangsters movie. I’d certainly go see it. I’m also curious what Maher might be thinking of doing in his next novel, assuming he has plans for one.

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