By Pat Browning
Talk about timing. CHASING DARKNESS, Robert Crais’s latest Elvis Cole novel, opens with a forest fire. The book launched July 1, and on that day more than 1400 fires were burning in California.
While forest fires are a fact of life in Southern California, June saw an outbreak of fires that literally set the state ablaze.
Crais has a good YouTube video for readers who like to hear authors talk about their lives and why and how they write. Here’s his comment on opening the new book with a forest fire: “The horror of fire is that it cleans out the old and uncovers things.”
Crais says that he began writing the Elvis Cole novels after his father died. Writing was therapy for him. Here’s a comment I especially like:
“Books are a very, very personal art form. They’re a collaborative art form like no other. When you look at the book, it’s actually not a completed piece of art. The art isn’t completed until the reader reads it.”
Some other examples:
The dust raised by the American Indian Movement (AIM) in the 1960s and ‘70s has never settled. While I was reading Margaret Coel’s THE GIRL WITH BRAIDED HAIR, American Indians were marching through Oklahoma on their way to Washington, D.C.
Coel’s book is fiction, but it’s about a crime on Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation where Lakota leaders find refuge with Arapahos after the ill-fated occupation at Wounded Knee. Years later, discovery of a skeleton stirs up old angers that lead to more murders.
In the real world, today’s AIM members are following northern and southern routes from California, planning to join up on July 10 or 11. They hope to meet with congressional leaders to address environmental issues, as well as legal battles over mineral rights and ancestral lands.
Meanwhile, in Austria, a Nazi war crimes suspect has created a furor by showing up at a soccer game. He’s 95, and his defenders say he “should be allowed to live out his days in peace.” Shades of Inspector Rebus!
I just re-read for the umpteenth time Ian Rankin’s THE HANGING GARDEN. In this one, Rebus pursues an accused war criminal who has lived a long and apparently blameless life in England since World War II. Another character says to Rebus:
“You are not investigating the crimes of an old man, but those of a young man who now happens to be old. Focus your mind on that. There have been investigations before, half-hearted affairs. Governments wait for these men to die rather than have to try them. But each investigation is an act of remembrance, and remembrance is never wasted. Remembrance is the only way we learn.”
Those books resonate with me not only because of ties to recent or historical events, but because they speak to the human heart.