Holding Lies: A Novel
by John Larison
Skyhorse Publishing, 2011
Holding Lies is the new novel from John Larison. Larison has written another well recieved novel, Northwest of Normal and a how-to book, The Complete Steelheader: Successful Fly-fishing Tactics.
According to the dust jacket, Holding Lies is a mystery. Classifying this book as a mystery, does not do it justice in my opinion. Sure, there has been a death, presumably a murder of steelhead guide Justin Morell, and the perpetrator is unknown. But this death and its investigation are not the real story, only a backdrop. I bring this up, because if you’re looking for a true mystery novel, one where the main character tracks down clues, follows leads and solves the mystery, then this is not the book for you. However, if you are looking for a literate novel that explores the relationships between parents and children, men and women, new-comers and old-timers, river and fish, guide and client, the new style flyfisher and the old-school, use and conservation, all set against the backdrop of steelheading in the Northwest, then this book will fit the bill.
In addition to being a published steelheading author, Larison is a former fishing guide – and it shows. Larison’s intimacy with the technical details of steelheading and guiding shines throughout this novel. In addition, well-rendered, specific locational and historical details about the Ipsyniho River (albeit a fictional river) and its surroundings, serve to paint a fully realized environment and a legitimate sense of place.
“They’re on the far-side seam,” Hank answered. “You can make the cast. Sweep deeper into the D-loop, and come over the top. Let the rod do the work.”
The fish always chose that ledge over the run’s other holding lies. The migration route up the river, the fish’s path of least resistance, delivered them right to its protective lee. In the early years, or his early years, the late sixties, before the headwaters were logged, the tributaries damned, the hatchery built, fish would be scattered all through this run they called Governor. The biggest fish would often sit on that ledge, the smaller ones dispersing to other lies in the pool. He’d even caught them in the knee-deep bucket on the other side, before silt from the new road filled it in. Back then forty thousand native steelhead spawned in the watershed…These days the young guides were relieved when eight thousand natives returned.
With setting well-staged, Larison, brings us a believable leading man, Hank Hazelton. Hank is a 59 year old steelhead guide on the fictional Ipsyniho River in Oregon. He is a man poised. Poised between the old guard and the new, between the river and the users, between freedom and the need for relationships. At the beginning of the book we find Hank anxiously awaiting the arrival of his estranged daughter Annie. As Hank is forced to explore and reevaluate his relationship with his daughter, he also finds himself reevaluating his relationship to the Ipsyniho, it’s environment and its denizens. And it is in these relationships that the real story lies. On the surface of Holding Lies, we watch as Hank struggles to find a way to reinvent his relationship to his daughter. But just below the surface we see the struggle of our modern world trying to reinvent a relationship to the natural world. Larison does this in an artful way and Holding Lies makes for a thoughtful, compelling read, pick it up and see for yourself.
A few additional excerpts:
They Found their first steelhead in the fifth run, a wild six-pounder that rose to Hank’s dry fly five times before finding the hook. He brought it quickly to the shallows and unpinned it, and Annie hovered over his shoulder as he let it go. Even now forty-five years after landing first one, the experience brought a rushing sense of euphoria: an intoxicating cocktail of gratitude, hope, and faith rewarded – and the indelible reality of one little resolution in this world so dead-set against them.
And for a moment, anything was possible. “I love you Annie.”
“What is it about steelhead?” she asked, maybe without hearing him. She had asked this question before, her first day after arriving.
“They’re the sun,” he said. “Everything in this valley orbits them. Always has.”
“That doesn’t mean anything. There must be something,” she continued, “something about them that made this life of yours – of Caroline’s and Danny’s and everybody else’s around here – orbit them, as you say.”
Hank rinsed the slime from his hands. “The river is washing the land’s nutrients downstream to the ocean; steelhead and other anadromous fish are the vehicle that returns those nutrients to the headwaters. Without them, the land withers and eventually dies.”
She considered this, staring at the passing water, so calm here compared to above. “But why are drawn to them? I get they play some important role in the watershed. That makes sense, but so do trees and I don’t see you climbing a big fir tree every morning.” She wasn’t hiding the bite of these questions.
It wasn’t like this great error of his life had occurred in the capsule of a single moment, some apex scene where the bright sun disappears over the dark horizon and that’s it. His great error was in fact a million little errors that had assembled slowly and imperceptibly, accumulating like a glacier’s ice pack and measured like one too: not in days or even years, but in decades. What was life but a disorienting progression of fragmented ambiguities that resisted any attempts at ordering – until viewed through the fictionalizing lens of hindsight? Then, and only then, could sense be made of it. And by then, what was the point? Nothing could be amended.
Life wasn’t like a river, no matter how many stupid pop songs said that it was. A river could be known, its channel could be learned, so that even on the foggiest predawn morning, a person could ick the right line, one move at at ime. No metaphor could capture or illuminate life’s chaotic unknowns, its swift determinism, its painful irrevocability. No, life was a precarious balancing act between enjoying the time yuo had left and surviving the mistakes you couldn’t quite identify. Of this much, hank was sure./p>
A Life Amongst Fishes and Those Who Catch Them
by Martin Donovan
Departure Publishing, May 2011
I won’t keep you in suspense – I loved this book. I know, maybe as a reviewer I should be a little more reserved about it, but I found this book a delightful read. Yes – I just used the word delightful. My daughter will sometimes watch television with this look where her head tilts to the side and she gets this little smile on her lips. It looks likes she’s transported and blissful (we’re not huge T.V. fans and we don’t let this happen too often). Well that is how I must have looked while reading this book. Although, maybe that look isn’t so charming on a 40-yr old man as it is on a pig-tailed girl, nonetheless…
Keeper, is a collection of stories by river keeper Martin Donovan. Martin Donovan has worked on the rivers for over two decades, first as an apprentice on the Itchen and then a full time keeper on the Test. Although there are a few departures, the stories are primarily concerned with the rivers, the fish that live in them and the folks that mess about on the banks with fly rods in their hands, and of course the men that oversee this all, the riverkeepers. In Mr. Donovan’s words:
This book started when someone asked me how I became a riverkeeper. Since that’s not a question that I could possibly answer in a few sentences, I decided to start jotting things down. During that process, it became clear that my love of the chalkstreams and the fish were subconsciously developed at an early age.
What follows is a collection of stories and events from my childhood days of exploring and fishing the River Test, a few odd jobs that influenced my perspective on life, and twenty-five wonderful years of cutting weeds, chasing poachers, tending fish and guiding anglers.
Donovan brings us up to speed pretty quickly, there are about 20 pages concerning his early years, ending with a description of an ill-fated, death-defying voyage across the English Channel en route to Gibraltar, as a yacht-rigger under the command of an inept captain. The captain took the yacht on a land-hugging, hop-scotching trip along the southern coast of England from Hamble to Falmouth and finally across the Channel. After revealing that “he was still learning the ropes of the navigating side of things”, the captain set off, as Donovan says “into the teeth of a howling gale, knowing full well that as soon as we lost sight of land we were well and truly in the shit.” I won’t spoil the ending of this trip for you.
The chapter serves as a sort of linchpin holding together the two halves of Donovan’s life. It’s a wonderfully literary tale to use as a metaphorical launching point for his adult life and for this book. A young man sets sail under dubious conditions, he’s unprepared, he’s in unfamiliar waters, his life is in the hands of somebody else…it’s pretty good stuff. It’s handled deftly too, without any heavy-handed exposition needlessly pointing out the well-crafted metaphor (he leaves heavy-handed pointing to clumsy reviewers like myself.) Although that particular story is not about rivers and fishing, it is representative of the craftsmanship and subtle literary touch that follows in the rest of the book.
The rest of the book, with few exceptions sticks pretty close to the banks of the river. The stories are presented roughly chronologically, but not strictly so. It is not a memoir in the sense that you’ll have a clear picture of the full timeline of Martin Donovan’s life as a riverkeeper after reading it. It’s not “And then this happened and then this happened, and then this…” What you get is more of a photo album of snapshots of life as a riverkeeper. There are snapshots of the rivers, of the fish, of the guests, of the hard work, of the riverkeepers.
Being a book by an English riverkeeper and being set primarily on the banks of English chalkstreams you might expect Keeper to be a tweedy sort of book, reserved and stodgy. It is not that sort of book. The story of his “interview” and first meeting with renowned keeper and eventual mentor, Ron Holloway is funny and exemplary. After posting a letter to Mr. Holloway, riverkeeper on the Martyr Worthy beat of the Itchen, Donovan gets a call at eight in the morning from Holloway, inviting him to a meeting.
After taking down a few directions, I was bombing down the M27 feeling excited, nervous and indeed slightly confused. Within five days of writing a letter to the Avon Advertiser, I was on my way to meet a famous riverkeeper of a premier beat on a world renowned chalkstream.
As I drew closer to our meeting point, I reflected back on the evening prior and cursed that last pint of Guinness and the chicken madras. I wished I had washed before jumping into the car; I looked like a scarecrow, I felt half-pissed, and smelt like a curry house.
The rest of the journey was spent with the windows wide open, a pathetic attempt to disperse my pungent aroma while my Dad’s advice rang in my ears, “It’s all about creating a good first impression.” It was with nervous apprehension that I parked the car and walked down to the bridge for my meeting.
If you asked any schoolchild to draw what they thought a riverkeeper looked like, each drawing would bear an uncanny resemblance to Ron Holloway…As he came towards me I can vividly remember thinking, blimey he looks worse than I do!
I immediately liked him.
He shook my hand firmly and welcomed me to Martyr Worthy. I got a definite whiff of both alcohol and curry, although I presumed it was my own breath rebounding off his rather large frame.
“Had a bloody good curry in Arlseford last night,” he said with a bloody good curry smile that I would recognize anywhere.
“Tad too much to drink, too, a bit delicate this morning,”
I almost loved this bloke and we’d only said hello.
Keeper is filled with interesting and likeable characters. And though I’m sure that there are plenty of snobby jerks (gentry, celebrities, business tycoons, etc.) that come to fish the chalkstreams, he doesn’t spend much time complaining about or discussing these sorts. There are a few funny stories at the expense of those types but he doesn’t linger on it. Mostly Donovan’s happy to keep it good natured, and he’s more interested in talking about the people and guests that he likes rather than focusing on those that he doesn’t.
I cut my fly fishing teeth on the limestone streams of Pennsylvania and have always imagined that I’ve got some fly fishing connection to the chalkstreams of England. Though this connection is tenuous at best, it surely had something to do with my enjoyment of the book. It gave me a point of reference. I can think about walking along the banks of Pennsylvania’s Big Spring, LeTort and Falling Spring when I read about the Itchen and the Test. I can’t help but wonder what these streams would be like if they were in the hands of riverkeepers like their counterparts in England. Of course this fantasy never gets too far along because if they were like those streams in England I’d very likely never have a chance to fish them. But the connection to English rivers and to this book is not predicated only on a familiarity with limestone streams and spring creeks. As American fly fishers our lineage is, of course, primarily rooted in the British Isles. And so any fly angler with a taste for history will feel that connection while reading this book.
To the point of fly fishing history, I want to be careful not to misrepresent this book. This book most certainly is not a book about fly fishing history, the history of English chalkstreams, or riverkeepers. Bits of that history come though in the telling, but this is a essentially a personal book about one man’s experiences as a riverkeeper.
As I mentioned earlier, this is not a memoir where Martin Donovan gives us a full accounting of his life as a riverkeeper. It is collection of stories that gives us a glimpse into that life. These vignettes seem to be carefully chosen and crafted. A passage in the chapter entitled “A Fisherman’s Seat” neatly reflects Donovan’s writing style and this book.
My newfound conclusion is that the sit-on furniture, whether a chair in the front room or a seat on the riverbank, is absolutely fundamental to enjoying a good sit-down.
Building a seat next to the river is not quite as simple as you might first imagine. The construction of the seat is easy enough, especially with the mastery of intricate chainsaw joinery…
The real essence of a good seat is in the positioning. It might only take me a half an hour to build a seat from start to finish, but before the first nail has been driven, I will have studied the proposed area of construction from every conceivable angle. I will have viewed the jobsite from across the river, from upstream, from downstream, and occasionally from a tree limb to gain aerial perspective. Too close to the water, not enough room to get the mower past, directly opposite a good salmon lay, wrong backdrop, sun in the eyes – there are many things to consider, any of which if wrongly chosen will render the seat useless.
Well, Martin Donovan has done a good job and he’s considered the angles. The riverside seat that he’s constructed for us is positioned just so, and it affords us a good view of the river and its denizens, piscatorial and human alike. The seat and the backdrop is perfect for a good sit-down and a good read.
Disclosure: I received no compensation, monetary or otherwise for this review. However, I was supplied with this book by the publisher.
Beyond Catch & Release: Exploring the Future of Fly Fishing
by Paul Guernsey
Skyhorse Publishing, May 2011
The author of Beyond Catch and Release, Paul Guernsey, sets the tone of this book from the very outset, with the first paragraph in the preface:
Fly Fishing is one of the most fulfilling ways of experiencing nature; it is one of the few activities that allows us to interact with the natural world as a participant rather than as a mere tourist. Because of this, people who fly fish belong to a privileged and extremely fortunate community. But with the privilege of angling and of belonging comes an important individual responsibility–the responsibility of each of us to be as good a fisherman or woman as we possibly can.
You can be sure that when he uses the term “good”, the author doesn’t mean just being able to catch fish. He is referring to the ethics of fly fishing, which spans topics ranging from our treatment of the resources such as the fish, and the waterways, to our interactions with other anglers, such as stream-side etiquette and eduction. This is a book with a point and a purpose. Guernsey believes that the fly fishing community needs to carefully “refine and redefine some of our beliefs, habits and attitudes in order to meet the challenges of tomorrow’s world.”
As a jumping off point for his thesis, Mr. Guernsey uses the rules set forth in “A Treatise of Fishing with an Angle”, which was published in 1496 as part of the larger volume The Book of St. Albans. The authorship of the treatise is unknown but is popularly attributed to the English prioress Dame Juliana Berners. The author of the Treatise sets forth a very useable ethical framework for the modern fly angler, which Guernsey modernizes and distills as below:
- Be considerate of other anglers, landowners, and the general public.
- Respect your quarry.
- Do what you can to protect fish and fish habitat.
- Take precautions for the sake of your own health and safety.
- Help and teach others.
- Enjoy your time outdoors.
Guernsey builds upon these simple rules and lays an ethical groundwork for the modern fly fisher. In several of the early chapters he explores the tradition and history of fishing in America and recounts some of the history leading to fishing regulations, bag limits and eventually to catch and release (C&R). Guernsey wants us fly anglers to think about C&R. He states that “catch and release has become such a reflexive action that we hardly think about it at all anymore. Most of us barely give a thought to why we return living fish to the the water. But the reason is important.”
After giving some interesting history on C&R Guernsey goes on to summarize by stating, “To further abbreviate a lengthy and complicated history, catch-and-release angling came about and caught on because it was a practical and effective fisheries management tool, and for no other reason.” The book goes on to cover the topics of how to handle and release fish, how to treat the waterways and fellow anglers, how to behave with guides, the problem of non-native species and what the future might hold for fly fishing.
One particularly interesting anecdote illuminated potentially disastrous problems created by stocking over wild fish. This episode was originally related by English author Harry Plunket-Greene in his 1924 book about the Bourne River, Where The Bright Waters Meet. Plunket-Greene tells how stocked two-year old hatchery trout out-competed larger fish for food resources and eliminated the large spawning-age natives in the course of a single season.
Guernsey points out that the future of sport fishing and C&R fly fishing are not automatically safe. In addition to environmental and habitat related issues that threaten recreational fishing there are issues of access and perhaps even the potential for a ban on C&R fishing altogether. Such a ban has been enacted in Switzerland already.
Though it strikes most fly anglers as bizarre, many animal rights advocates – along with plenty of people who don’t subscribe to the rest of the animal rights philosophy or agenda – find catching and releasing fish to be more, rather than less, morally objectionable than hooking and cooking the same fish. According to their argument, the fish killer is merely trying to feed himself or his family, which to them is understandable, if not excusable, while the C&R angler is tormenting a living creature for his own amusement, which they view as indefensible.
Whether this type of argument will ever gain traction in the United States I can’t predict. But one thing is certain, fewer anglers and fewer fly anglers means less people that will care to argue and educate against it.
In Beyond Catch and Release Paul Guernsey attempts to cover a lot of ground – and does a pretty good job of it. The book suffers a little from the broad scope though when it fails to get into details. For instance I think that the book could be stronger if more specific data were included to back up the discussions of C&R, barbless hooks, felt-sole waders and the like.
I can’t say that this is a book for everyone. It has more in common with a text book than it does with a book by say John Gierach or Ted Leeson. The prose is clear and concise and and utilitarian. Which is appropriate for this book, and its purpose, I think. As I read this book I found myself wondering a bit about who the target audience is, or maybe more specifically who the target audience should be. I think that most fly anglers would benefit from reading this book. Though, many well read thoughtful anglers will not find much that is totally new in its pages. However, it is good to be reminded of the the ideas presented in this book; firstly so that we continue to practice these ideas ourselves and secondly and perhaps more importantly so that we can pass them on to the future generation. The best audience for this book though is new anglers or those that instruct or deal with new anglers. This book would be an ideal book to put in the hands of all new anglers and would make an excellent companion to a how-to type book.
Disclosure: I received no compensation, monetary or otherwise for this review. However, I was supplied with this book by the publisher.
No Shortage of Good Days
By John Gierach
Simon and Schuster, May 2011
The name John Gierach is probably familiar to most fly fishing readers. And I bet most of you have probably read at least a book or two by the well known trout bum and author. If you have, then this new book will feel comfortable and familiar to you. If you have not, then this book is as good a jumping in point as any. No Shortage of Good Days consists of twenty short chapters and comes in at just over 200 pages. Typical of a Gierach book, each chapter is a separate vignette without any over-arching theme except for the obvious fly fishing commonality. This can be a good thing or a bad thing (or no thing at all). Personally I have mixed feelings about this format. It is nice if you don’t have big blocks of reading time. You can pick this book up read a chapter or two, put it down for a few days, or weeks, pick it up again and you won’t be lost. On the other hand I find that this kind of book is not very compelling. I don’t feel the urgent need to read on after I finish a chapter. I can read a chapter and be content to let it sit for a while.
The chapters deal mostly with trout fishing, but there are a few forays into salmon, steelhead and saltwater. The subject matter is, in general, pretty mundane stuff. That is not meant as a criticism however, quite to the contrary. The ability to write about the everyday, average fishing trip and somehow make it interesting is where Gierach’s sneaky genius lies. He can take the type of trip that we all have and delicately transform it into something worth reading. He is able to put words to the partially formed thoughts in my own head and leave me nodding in recognition. We’ve all had moments like this one described below.
…I involuntarily visualized a trout stream I’d fished two years earlier high up in the San Juan Mountains in southern Colorado. I could clearly see a size 16 parachute dry fly drifting perfectly down an idyllic pool below a small waterfall. (Accurately recalling an entire day of fishing is like trying to put smoke back down a chimney, so you settle on these specific moments.) When a fifteen-inch cutthroat calmly ate the fly, I realized that I had driven six blocks in a trance and had missed my turn.
Gierach is a master of a certain literary slight of hand. He writes about fly fishing as if he knows on the one hand that it is a frivolous activity with no real meaning in a modern catch and release context, but on the other hand it’s as good an activity as any to dedicate your life to. My favorite chapter in the book deals with this idea. In this chapter, called Firewood, Gierach describes a long, cold winter where the firewood he needs to heat his house is in short supply and he spends much of his time checking for wood that has been thinned from the forest (for fire prevention) and dumped along the road. It just happens that there is a small trout stream, with small trout often rising to tiny midges, in the vicinity of the wood piles. So he takes along the fishing gear when he goes to check for wood.
So this became an almost daily routine for the next week and a half. I didn’t always find a fresh load of wood and rising trout on the same day, but as luck would have it, I always found one or the other.
The important search for life-sustaining (or at least plumbing sustaining) firewood and the apparently frivolous activity of fly-fishing for small, midge-sipping trout are somehow equally important. If you have the fly fishing bug, then you probably have a sense of this yourself. This feeling that fly fishing is both meaningless and all important. Or maybe more specifically that fly fishing is what it is – that the entire meaning of fly fishing lies within the act itself, only in doing it do you understand it. Or maybe, zen koans aside, it is just your preferred form of escapism.
It’s not that you could – or would – spend the rest of your days standing in cold water swatting deer flies, it’s just that the detritus of daily life has been piling up while you were gone, and by contrast traveling and fishing seem so, you know…uncomplicated.
When you cannot get yourself on the water, which for many of us is all too often, then reading a book like No Shortage of Good Days is a good substitute – a good way to lose yourself in cold water and trout and for a while ignore the “detritus of daily life”.
The Wind Knot ( A Fly Fishing Mystery #4)
by John Galligan
Tyrus Books, March 2011
“Dog Quit fishing that night.” This is how the new John Galligan fly fishing mystery, The Wind Knot, begins. If you’ve been following Ned “Dog” Olglivie’s odyssey over the previous three books, then you know that this is a big deal. Driven by personal tragedy, Ned has embarked on a project. That project is to fly fish himself into oblivion. He has no real plan for this – just to fish, to keep to himself, to forget and maybe somehow to move on. So far this plan has been only marginally successful. It turns out that isolation and avoidance may not be the best things for what ails you.
At the beginning of The Wind Knot, we meet up with the Dog as he is ending a pilgrimage to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, to the land of Hemingway’s story, “The Big Two-Hearted River.” It is a sort of culmination of his six-year fly fishing bender. In the Hemingway story the protagonist, Nick Adams, has returned from war and he seeks healing in the activities of camping, hiking and fishing. Although it is not necessary, I would strongly recommend reading “The Big Two-Hearted River”, prior to reading The Wind Knot. It will definitely enhance your reading experience to be familiar with the Hemingway story.
However, Ned’s trip to Hemingway’s stomping grounds so far hasn’t had quite the effect that he had been hoping for:
Dog found himself re-contemplating the Hemingway story that had sent him on this six-year fishing trip in the first place. “Big Two-Hearted River” had stoked in him a hope that was just intense enough to keep him looking ahead. At last he had come to the story’s sacred source – only to discover that there was no Big Two Hearted River.
There was a North Branch of the Two Hearted, a West Branch of the Two Hearted, a South Branch of the Two Hearted, and a Little Two Hearted – all of them willow-clogged, sand-bottomed, peat-stained affairs, with low densities of small trout – but no majesty, no gravity, no Big Two Hearted River, the place where Nick Adams figured things out and got better.
Hemingway’s story has not held up its end of the bargain. So, Dog is changing tack and heading home to face his demons. He is divesting of his fly fishing life, sending it up in flames. To this reader, it feels like a good decision – like Dog is making the first good decision that he’s made in a long time. Six years of running and hiding going up in flames and expelling the bitterness, self-hatred, and fear in black evil-smelling smoke.
…Dog built up a waist-high bonfire and first burned his waders. The campsite now stank of inhuman proceedings. He drizzled a hundred trout flies over tall orange flames, watched the flies sizzle and vanish, then dropped in his battered plastic boxes and stepped back from more foul smoke.
He forged on. He emptied vest pockets one by one: strike putty, leader wallet, tippet spools, each creating its own quality of flame…He tossed his fishing hat into the fire. It crackled like bacon…Dog stripped the line of his reel. That line had held about ten thousand trout…He balled the line into a handful and lobbed it into the fire. It melted fast, squealing like a live thing. Dog’s heart hurt. But if he fished again, nothing would be the same. He would start over: gear, purpose and all.
This seems to be of a sort of symbolic trepanation – Dog is drilling a hole in his fly fishing skull to let out the evil spirits. Reading this passage, I might be more hopeful for Dog if it wasn’t within the first few pages of the book. But there is a whole story waiting for Dog. And he’s got perhaps his worst decision of all ahead of him. Dog does leave, he does head for home – but he doesn’t make it. Somewhere outside of Chicago he discovers that somebody has planted a body in the bunk of his Cruise Master RV. And this is where the bad decision making comes in. Ned decides to head back to the U.P. and dump the body. He is observed in the act and apprehended by a Book Mobile driving librarian, Esofea Smithback. And so Dog is reluctantly drawn into another twisted murder mystery – but this time as the prime suspect.
John Galligan changes things up a bit in this latest fly fishing mystery. The previous three books were all written in the first person from the point of view of the Dog himself. However, this story is written in the third person. It is a nice change of pace and it allows Galligan’s characters to range geographically more than previously, and so present a wider frame for the story. I also enjoyed the fact that Dog is a suspect in this story. He’s had some brushes with the law in the past – but he has never really been a suspect in one of the murder cases, as he is in this story. A problem with any book series is that it can become formulaic. These simple changes help to avoid that rut.
The characters in this story are well fleshed out, quirky and interesting. We get to meet Esofea Smithback, the slightly un-hinged librarian and Pippi Longstocking disciple, as well as her boyfriend Danny Tervo, a sort of hippie philospher and would-be water baron; the strikingly beautiful Deputy Sheriff Margarite DuCharme and her questionable choice of love interest, party-girl Julia Inkster; along with many other great characters. Watching these characters navigate the tricky boulder-strewn waterways of their personal relationships really helps to ground the story, and make it much more than just a murder mystery.
At the end of Hemingway’s story, “Big Two-Hearted River”, we find a Nick Adams that is on the way to being whole again – but he’s not all the way there. Nick tells us that he is happy. He’s happy to be fishing, happy to be camping – but I think maybe he’s not ready for the real world. He fishes his way up the river until he gets to a swamp. The swamp is deep, a little frightening and it would be difficult to fish. Nick does not go into the swamp on that day. The Hemingway story ends with the line; “There were plenty of days coming when he could fish the swamp.”
That is the feeling that I get upon finishing The Wind Knot. I could be wrong but it feels like a page has been turned and Dog is eyeballing the swamp. Maybe he’s not ready to fish it yet, but maybe soon. The Wind Knot is another good read from John Galligan. It’s funny, moving and layered. It has interesting well-drawn characters, a good mystery and fly fishing. The Wind Knot could be read as a stand-alone novel, it gives the reader a complete, self-contained story. However, to fully appreciate the character arc of Ned “Dog” Oglivie and to get the most of the story it would be best to read it after the other three fly fishing mystery books; The Nail Knot, The Blood Knot and The Clinch Knot.
Read more about John Galligan at www.johngalligan.com
Check out this interview with John Galligan on YouTube where he discusses the books and the origin of Dog.
Here are links to my reviews of:
The Nail Knot
The Blood Knot
Disclosure: I received no monetary compensation for reviewing this book. However, this book was provided to me by the publisher.
tenkara: Radically Simple, Ultralight Fly Fishing (2011)
by Kevin C. Kelleher, MD with Misako Ishimura
In his book Tenkara: Radically Simple, Ultralight Fly Fishing author Kevin Kelleher (with Misako Ishimura), has brought tenkara literature to America. Up to this point everything that you wanted to find out about tenkara was going to come from online resources. And although there is wealth of great information available online, it is nice to get some of it here in one place, in print. I’m old fashioned when it comes to my reading. I enjoy it most when it comes from the pages of a book. I like to get a cup of coffee, sit in my spot on the couch, put my feet up, maybe put on some music – that’s how I like to read. Sitting at a computer reading from a screen is less like reading and more like ingesting information. The irony that I write this blog and that it’s read from a computer screen is not lost on me.
The book opens with some discussion of the birth of tenkara in the mountains of Japan (interesting stuff). Then it moves to discussion of tenkara gear and rigging. After reading these chapters the curious western angler will know what he needs to get started as a tenkara fisherman. The emphasis is always on the ease and simplicity of the tenkara set-up.
The principal appeal of tenkara fly fishing lies in it’s simplicity, pared down to a rod, a line, and a fly. In comparison to western fly fishing, the amount of necessary gear is minimal…Take only what seems essential and fitting. Scrutinize everything. It must serve you, not burden you.
In the introduction, the author mentions that this book is written so that it will be useful to the complete beginner as well as for the seasoned western angler that wants to transition to tenkara. With the beginner in mind there are chapters that tackle basic fly fishing subjects such as likely trout lies; dry fly, wetfly, nymph and streamer tactics; trout stream bugs; proper stalking and wading techniques, etc. The more experienced fly fisher will find much to learn in the discussions of tenkara gear and rigging, tenkara casting, making tenkara lines and tenkara style flies and presentation. Also, to be honest, I can always use those reminders about wading carefully and being stealthy on small streams.
The chapter on casting is called “the simplest cast in fly fishing”. Much of the appeal of tenkara lies in simplicity, and tenkara casting is no different. Here’s what the author has to say on that:
One of the strengths of tenkara lies in its cast…A beginner can use a tenkara rod to place a fishable fly immediately without instruction.
This is indeed true. I can vouch for that – give a kid (or adult) a tenkara rod and they’ll pick up the basic cast almost intuitively. In this book, the author Kevin Kelleher is not only presenting the tenkara style of fishing, he is also presenting a philosophy of fishing (and maybe even living). Keep it simple. The author says:
It’s the intimacy, unencumbered by excess gear and gadgetry, that takes us outside of ourselves. We need our quiet places, both internally and out in the world, and tenkara can help you find them.
I think that this book will appeal (and be most helpful) to those folks just beginning to get into fly fishing, and those more experienced anglers unfamiliar to tenkara and looking to transition. If you are an experienced fly fisher that has followed tenkara’s growth in america via the web and various tenkara forums, and who already has a tenkara rod, then maybe this book will not be deep enough for you. For example, I would have like to see a much more detailed section on tenkara flies and tenkara fly tying. And perhaps more info on the history and current state of tenkara in Japan.
Is this book the “last word” in tenkara? No, it is not. Is it a good beginning point though? – yes definitely. I am very glad to see this book published. Hopefully it is only the first of many tenkara books by Kevin Kelleher and Misako Ishmura.
Disclosure: I received no monetary compensation for reviewing this book. However, this book was provided to me by the publisher.
“Dog, This is not a fishing trip.” That is the message that Harvey Digman (the Dog’s tax man) has written on the back of a postcard that he included with Dog’s latest installment of cash. On the front of the postcard is Rene Magritte’s famous painting La trahison des images or The Treachery of Images. The painting is the simple image of a pipe with the phrase “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (“This is not a pipe”) written below it.
This is a fitting image to begin The Blood Knot, John Galligan’s second book in his Fly Fishing Mystery Series. In the first book of the series, The Nail Knot, (see my review here), we were introduced to fly fisher Ned “Dog” Oglivie and his never-ending fishing trip. Ironically, Ned’s years-long fishing odyssey is not the fulfillment of a life-long dream, but is rather a head-long flight into oblivion born of personal tragedy, this is not a fishing trip…
At the beginning of the book, Dog is awakened by the sound of gunshots. He assumes that these are coming from the gun of a helpful local who is hunting down a potentially rabid beaver that bit him. However, he soon finds out that he is mistaken.
I could see the Barn lady. Her plump little body rolled and tossed at the tail of the bridge pool. Her thin gray hair trailed away in the current, and the push of the creek ballooned her overalls. Her left arm bent grotesquely above her head, wobbling like a trout. A final shot slammed past me – Bang! – and jolted the lady.
“There,” said the Avalanche Kid.
He coughed words down at me.
“I shot her”
It appears simple at first – the kid, Deuce Kussmaul, had shot and killed the lady that painted barns, the Barn lady. But of course, things are not that simple and things are not as they seem. Ceci n’est pas une pipe (this is not a pipe)…and it is definitely not just a fishing trip. Eve Kussmaul, a shunned Amish woman, and Deuce’s mother, is convinced that her son is innocent. With the help of a felled oak across the campground exit (blocking the Dog in), she convinces Dog to stay and help unravel the mystery. And just like that Ned Oglivie is again drawn into a murder mystery.
As with The Nail Knot, this story is set in the trout-rich, Driftless region of Wisconsin – but this time in the Kickapoo River valley. The characters of the story include some of the Amish residents of the valley as well as the treacherous and menacing men of the Kussmaul family. The Kussmaul men are known by their barns; Half-Tim, Beechnut, King-Midas, Roundy, Lighting-Rod. Their nick-names come from some notable feature of their barns. When she was alive, the Kussmauls did not get on well with the Barn Lady, the late Annie Adams. She made a living form painting their historic barns. As the Kussmaul men saw it she was stealing from them, and trespassing (she used the riparian access rights of the waterways to gain access to paint their barns). They believed that Annie owed them a cut of her profits and she did not agree. Any of the Kussmauls might have killed Annie and set-up the young boy, Deuce, to take the blame.
That is the backdrop for the mystery in The Blood Knot. I’ll say that I enjoyed this book. But maybe not quite as much as the first one in the series. The previous book, The Nail Knot, was a bit more lighthearted, a bit more comic sort of murder mystery. The Blood Knot has funny moments, but I always felt a little ill-at-ease. To be fair, the main problem is that I was expecting more of the same. Not that there is a drastic departure – but there is a shift. In a way though, this shift in tone and color may be necessary for a satisfying story-arc of the protagonist. Ned is indeed fleeing from demons in his past, of which we learn a little more in this book. And if his story is going to turn a corner and head toward some conclusion, then he is going to have to face these demons – and that could hardly be a lighthearted affair.
Not to get too analytical but…It seems to me that in this book John Galligan is reaching a little more deeply than in the previous one, and exploring some themes a little more richly. I don’t want to give too much of the story away so I can’t say too much here – but one theme that jumps out at me is the idea that a man can not exist in isolation. And also that it is very difficult to break down those barriers that keep us isolated; social, political, religious, gender-related, etc. The image of Magritte’s painting springs to mind again – this is not a pipe. This image itself seems to speak to the idea that even when presented with a simple fact, we will view it differently and communicate our ideas about it ineffectively. So even at a most basic level barriers are bound to spring up.
Along the way Galligan, gives us a good mystery to unravel, along with some fly-fishing (the blood knot and the Trico mayfly figure into the mystery). We also get a glimpse into the friction that occurs when the Amish world bumps up against ours. Environmental and stewardship themes such as riparian access and the question of “who owns the view?” pop up too. The Blood Knot is an engaging mystery with enough fly-fishing to keep the angler’s attention, but also with enough meat on the bones to keep it from being trivial. All in all, a very satisfying read and though it could be read as stand-alone book, the reader will definitely take more away when it is read in sequence with The Nail Knot.
Find out more about the author here: www.johngalligan.com
Disclosure: This book was provided to me by the author