Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Day One, by Bill Cameron (hardcover, $24.95, and paperback, $14.95)

Portland author Bill Cameron has invented a novel filled with complex plotting and writing that is both tough and lyrical. His story involves both first person present and third person points of view, and when his story turns to third person, freed from the confines of his character, his prose soars.

Cameron's main character is Skin Kadash, at this point a retired Portland police detective. Some Asian philosophies believe the center of the body is in the area of the stomach, where the "chi" or life force lives. If this were true, Skin would be in big, big trouble. Tormented by stomach cancer, gut-wrenching decisions, physical blows below the belt, and gutsy metaphors, Skin suffers. When we first meet him in Day One, his life is meaningless, and he is contemplating the end of his days. Then his neighbor across the street has a shoot-out with the police, and it is day one of his new life.

Day One bounces around in time. Cameron tells the stories of several characters, and the characters have their stories told in pieces, sometimes set in the present, sometimes in the past. The reader doesn't know how it will all relate, but there is an inevitability that they will all come together in the end. The author does a masterful job of juggling his storylines. (Take notes if you have to because you don't want to miss a point of the intricate plotting.)

Once again, Cameron does a lot of tough- and rough-talking, but for this, his third book, his style is more flowing and poetic. The fit of the two makes compelling reading.

What do these storylines have in common? A few years ago, a young girl in a small town in southern Oregon made an unsuitable marriage. It eventually led to violence and a wrenching parting of the ways. A few years ago, 13-year-old "Eager," a skateboarding punk, was found by Skin and other police huddled over the body of a young woman in Portland's Mt. Tabor Park. In the present time, the man who lives across the street from Skin is shot by the police, his young stepson is missing, and his wife and older son have fled the scene. Skin is drawn into the investigation by his former partner, who is now a lieutenant. Skin also saw Eager standing in the crowd watching his neighbor's drama and watched Eager shot in the head. But after being partially patched up by medics, Eager is now missing. There are a whole lot of people to locate.

Mitch, Skin's neighbor, was an annoying but nice guy. Skin liked Mitch's wife, Luellen, and babysat the young Danny on occasion. Having seen Eager, now several years older, on his block several times, Skin was wary that Eager was casing his place. Against the odds, a tentative relationship has built up between the two, mostly consisting of Eager telling Skin all about skateboarding. Skin knows that Eager comes from a dysfunctional family, with an estranged father who used to be a deputy in a rural community, so it may just be that Eager is looking for a father substitute. Babysitter? Substitute father? This is a new side of Skin, for sure.

This seems like a lot to take in, but Cameron does a good job anchoring his readers in the chapter's time frame. Also, he is one of the few authors who has chapter titles, and they are nice whimsical touches.

This is a novel that transcends Cameron's other works, both in complexity and fluidity of writing. Here's hoping that it is day one of a brilliant and shining time for the author!