All That I Have by Castle Freeman

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All That I Have by Castle Freeman

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Chris Bradshaw
Reviewed by Chris Bradshaw
Summary: Small but perfectly formed: you'll never see New England in quite the same light after meeting Sheriff Lucian Wing.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 176 Date: January 2010
Publisher: Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd
ISBN: 978-0715639023

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Castle Freeman may sound like two-thirds of a firm of provincial solicitors but thankfully this Castle Freeman is a man very skilled in writing about the law rather than practising it. In his latest novel, Freeman tells an intriguing tale involving local Sheriff Lucian Wing and his practical yet low-key approach to maintaining order in rural Vermont. Not for Wing the gung ho approach to fighting crime. He doesn't wear a uniform, he drives a battered old car rather than the standard-issue sheriff's wagon and his gun, so ubiquitous in US law enforcement, is safely tucked away in his bottom drawer. Everyone in the area knows the sheriff and by and large they respect him and his slightly unorthodox way of doing business.

Wing's relaxed approach is challenged though by rebellious youngster Sean 'Superboy' Duke who gets mixed up with a gang of Russian criminals, villains whose sights are set slightly higher than the little league hoods that Wing is used to dealing with. Throw in an ambitious, opinionated and increasingly disgruntled deputy who thinks that he should be wearing the sheriff's badge and a mystery involving his attractive wife, Clemmie and things are destined for an almighty shake-up.

The pace of life in Vermont may be slightly slower than that documented in the likes of Richard Price's Lush Life (which I'd finished prior to starting All That I Have) but the story that Freeman has to tell is every bit as compelling as that of his New York neighbour's.

In fact, the more relaxed pace is in many ways a good thing, giving the characters time to breathe. And in Lucian Wing, Freeman has created a gem. Generous, solid, wise, with a wry sense of humour, the sheriff is a beautifully written character. His relationship with the infamous Superboy stays on just the right side of credibility and the interaction with his enigmatic wife is neatly done.

The dialogue is tight and spare, perfectly matching the surroundings, but it is sprinkled with some memorable flourishes and some very amusing lines.

All That I Have is a novel that features crime but you'd be hard-pressed to call it a crime novel. It's not concerned with police procedure or even a whodunit. It's more a study of character and relationships and how they cope when put under pressure. Sure, there are some action scenes (and very well done they are too) but in Freeman's world, a little action can go a long way and is all the better for being that way.

This book may be short (it comes in at just 165 pages long) but there is plenty to admire in those pages. Freeman is a highly skilled wordsmith, creating a believable world and three-dimensional characters and just the right amount of tension to keep those pages turning. All That I Have is a beauty of a novel and comes heartily recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then do try Lush Life or Cloudland by Joseph Olshan.

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