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Dreadfulwater Shows up

by Hartley GoodWeather

DreadfulWater Shows Up is the story of Cherokee ex-cop-turned-photographer-turned-detective Thumps DreadfulWater. The book, which focuses on DreadfulWater’s investigation into a series of murders around a new condo project, creates as many mysteries as it solves.

First, there is the tricky matter of identity: not cultural identity, but authorial identity. Hartley GoodWeather is the name that appears on the cover, but the goofy film-noir author photo (a wide-lapelled suit, fedora, face in shadow) on the back of my advance reading copy clearly shows Thomas King, author of the novel Green Grass , Running Water . (GoodWeather, like King, is also part Cherokee and hails from California.)

DreadfulWater Shows Up is classic detective fiction: someone finds a body, the police are called, the clues lead nowhere, an anti-social/loner detective with a mysterious past begins a less-than-official investigation, solves the case, and in the process shows the police for the fumbling boneheads they are. Pretty standard stuff.

At times, King seems to want to fashion DreadfulWater Shows Up as a commentary on class: a non-native resort town with a golf course no Indian can afford to play on, an Indian tribe building condos no Indian can afford. But these tantalizing set-ups are left undeveloped except for the initial mention and their subsequent role as background material.

And that’s too bad. King is known for using humour to skewer everyone from the ordinary to the powerful – after which he roasts them in their attendant hypocrisies. But the humour in DreadfulWater is so light it’s practically transparent. It’s completely devoid of the metaphorical substance of King’s other works, in which he uses humour to deconstruct Western culture, aboriginal culture, and Anglo-aboriginal relations.

Some books, though – like some aboriginal oral traditions – are meant just for a laugh or to tell a good yarn. But even taken as pure entertainment, DreadfulWater isn’t particularly funny. At the end of the novel, my laugh-out-loud count stood at a lowly three. I enjoyed the written word play – four people playing golf are referred to as a “foresome,” and a realty office is referred to as a “Reality” office for selling the high-priced condos – and the usual Kingian conversational non sequiturs, but these bright spots do not add up to a particularly funny book.

As for telling a good yarn, although lots of bodies turn up, the story is very light on actual events. And most readers will see the plot developments coming from a mile away: for instance, a suspect is allowed to go into the shower. Alone. What happens? He escapes.

Worse, the writing is flat. King gives us a million rhetorical questions firing in DreadfulWater’s head: it’s plodding, tell-don’t-show stuff, as if the writer has no confidence that his audience will understand the few clues he bothers to include.

DreadfulWater also remains an undeveloped character. Occasional noirish touches hint at our protagonist’s troubled history, but the few glimpses we get into GoodWeather’s past don’t explain his alienation from the world around him. The supporting cast doesn’t fare any better: two lesbian characters – one a realtor, the other a coroner – ignite the page every time they appear, but they remain sadly undeveloped.

Finally, like the TV show Murder, She Wrote, readers may wonder at the novel’s ridiculous scale of events: there are four murders and a number of attempted murders in this book. Such a small town, so many bodies. How long can this last before GoodWeather/King runs out of people?