Traveller by Ron McLarty

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Traveller by Ron McLarty

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Jono Riley returns from New York to East Providence when his childhood friend dies from the movement of a bullet she's carried in her shoulder since they were children. The past comes back to haunt everyone from those days...those who've survived this far. Old grudges linger, and old loves as well. Mystery writing at its most traditional proving that well-told stories are still 'made like they used to' be. Good stuff.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: November 2007
Publisher: Sphere
ISBN: 978-0751537345

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The "traveller" of the title isn't a person, but a bullet.

Sometimes when a person is shot, the bullet lodges in the body fairly harmlessly (but for the initial pain and a bit of blood-loss). Generally it will still be extracted - it's useful forensic evidence for one thing - but sometimes it will lodge in a place where the extraction poses a greater risk than simply letting it lie. If it is very close to a major artery for instance.

Then it will be left in situ. Normally, other than the inconvenience of an additional piece of paper and maybe a copy of the X-ray to show airport security, it can simply be forgotten about. The body will build protective tissue around it and hold it still.

Normally.

A "traveller" is such a bullet, which after remaining calmly in place after years of provocation, will suddenly decide to shift. If it shifts into that nearby artery, it will kill you.

Marie d'Agostino was killed by a traveller. In her early fifties, she took a nap... and never woke up.

This is the news that reaches Jono Riley - bit-part actor, successful bartender and commitment-phobic lover of FDNY Renée Levesque. Marie, his first love, his childhood idol who became like his sister by virtue of her knowing him better than anyone, and also by virtue of her actually being the sister of one of his best buddies. He loved Marie with all the passion of a 12-year-old, and then with all the solid affection of a quasi-family member. He loved her. And now her brother Cubby has written that she is dead and maybe he'd want to know.

So he goes home. Back to East Providence - back to all the memories of growing up in small town America, which was full of small time criminals and big bullies and the usual mix of people trying to make it one way or another... but was also full of people looking out for each other in their own culture-centred, church-muddled, family-type way: the micks and the portugees and even the occasional geek. Racist for sure, but not viciously so... and only when the ties that bound broke down.

What Jono finds is that most of the folks are still around, except them as have died, although the places have changed. The loyalties and vendettas still simmer below the surface, which provokes more and more to emerge from his memory.

The primary memoir, of course, is that he was with Marie when she acquired her traveller. After a hockey game, walking home, they make snow-angels out by the water tower and standing to admire their handiwork... Marie is shot.

The gunman is never found.

Talking to old friends, seeing the old places and remembering those that were, other recollections surface and new connections are made and Jono begins to discover the secrets that have held for 40 years, and that no-one is ever quite what he seems.

In essence, then, Traveller is a mystery story: a crime tale in the tradition of Agatha Christie where the unravelling is the whole point of the piece. The plot doesn't so much twist and turn, as wander down a road with a number of off-shoots which leave you wondering if you've missed the relevant possibility... and eventually forces you to back track to find it.

That it is a 40-year-old crime fits well with the "traditional" genre... as does setting it in the narrow world of 'small town America' which substitutes well for the 'English village' as a closed world of known connections and unimaginable secrets. It enables McLarty to avoid the traps of needing to be violent or coarse in telling a story of violence. Instead he can pitch his murder and mayhem at the 'just one of them things' level... and leave the puzzles and the motivations - the human angle, if you will - to provide the real interest.

His pitch is perfect.

Alternate chapters tell of what happened back then - Jono's life as he remembers it from about 12 to 16 - and what's happening now - Jono's life in the theatre, his abiding if fearful love for Renée, and his investigation into what really happened all those years ago.

As a structure it's one that doesn't always work, but McLarty seems to have the gift for allowing the 'today' chapters to provoke the 'memories' so that they flow naturally from the investigation. Translated to film or television this would still come over as clumsy and awkward, but on the page it holds out well.

It might help that Jono is such a sweet, sympathetic character, who probably wants you to think well of the world and everyone in it... but you can't avoid the slight tinge of rose about the past. Oh, there were fights, some bloody and brutal, and obviously there were deaths, ditto, but somehow there is an underlying tone of redemption about the whole thing.

As a picture of a lost time and place - to an outsider at least - it's near perfect.

There is nothing particularly deep or thought-provoking about Traveller, it is (as the Times said of McLarty's previous novel 'The Memory of Running') "Simply a good story well-written." - which makes it an absolute pleasure to read.

You might also like: New England White.

Buy Traveller by Ron McLarty at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Traveller by Ron McLarty at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Traveller by Ron McLarty at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Traveller by Ron McLarty at Amazon.com.

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