Plights of the Book Reviewer

Plights of the Book Reviewer

Posted on September 8 by Kyle in Reviews
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Acclaimed reviewer Don Graves sent us a review for Stephen Maher's debut novel Savage. We then asked him how book reviewing has changed recently, for better or worse. Read his answer underneath the review.

Stephen Maher’s second novel, Salvage, is a no-holds-barred, come from away… winner.

The story is a lobster hunter, turned P.I on the run from some Mexican coke dealers who are not interested in a fishing trip. Philip Scarnum nearly drowns off Nova Scotia’s south shore while salvaging a $200,000.00 lobster boat from a nasty end on some rocks. He nearly freezes to death and drowns before success. And that’s the easy part.

The story telling is a wonderful mixed chowder of murder, Mexican thugs, coke, sex and home-town folks who know how to take justice into their own hands especially away from a Mountie who threatens to fall off that thin blue (red) line.

The plot is simple: a greedy man gets his reward.  The P.I. cheats death almost as often as he’s drunk. The dialogue gets to the heart of life and trust between folks and is liberally infused with salty descriptors and down east swindling wisdom. And I mustn’t forget the booze that seems to be a cornerstone of Scarnum’s luck. And if you truly do come from away then Salvage is a look into the life, hard scrabble style and fun on the Nova Scotia coast with enough sex to uncurl a lobster’s tail. Author, Maher is a writer to watch; his talent takes you right into the action and is well worth the price of admission.

Changes in reviewing:  It has indeed changed, and not necessarily for the better. My column, Canadian Mysteries by Don Graves enjoyed almost 9 years in the Hamilton Spectator. It was the only regular review piece that focussed on Canadian authors. The column ended when the paper altered its policy on Canadian content reviewing.  Regular reviews of Canadian authors tend to feature what we call the “A-listers”, who certainly deserve the coverage but then the big question remains… what happens to the remaining 90%? 

The main source of reviews for this strong talent base is in online reviews and book shops. My review column occasionally appears at the Different Drummer in Burlington and I’m planning to become involved in an online review in the near future.  Does this make Canadian mystery fiction different than other art forms?  I believe this endemic absence of review support for Canadian talent is evident in most art forms.

Canadian book reviews are essential. Reviews of books and interviews with authors in the press provide a voice of praise, criticism and promotion for Canadian writers. It’s a critical voice, given the dominance of the American market. This voice also speaks for the Canadian publishers who take the business risks and support our writers.  Imagine how the presence of our Canadian Football teams would be impacted if Canadian Press only covered American football? Granted, sports coverage reaches a larger audience than perhaps Canadian writing, theatre, performance, or art. But is it not a responsibility that our press cover Canadian authors especially fiction and mystery? I believe it is. Creating art in a public vacuum can be a lonely affair for both writer and publisher.