It’s been five years or so since I read, thoroughly enjoyed, and reviewed Jeff Shelby’s second book, Wicked Break, featuring surfer-sleuth Noah Braddock. Of the hundreds of ARC (advance reviewers’ copy) books I have received over the years, I have put aside a handful for re-reading, and Wicked Break is one of the chosen few in that elite group. So when I got an email from Jeff Shelby’s publicist inquiring whether I’d be interested in having a look at his latest Noah Braddock novel, I thought “this is one of the great perks of this job”, and replied in eager affirmative.
The new book, entitled Liquid Smoke, finds the wisecracking PI between gigs, enjoying the San Diego surf. He has been teaching his cop girlfriend, Liz Santangelo, how to surf, and it is beginning to pay off, both in terms of her skill level, and in the quality of their time together. A short distance down the down the jetty from the couple, a bikini-clad young woman appears to have her eye on Braddock.
“Maybe she wants lessons,” Liz suggested, her tone somewhere between amused and annoyed.
“Jealousy. It always makes my day.”
Liz rolled her eyes. “I’m not jealous.”
“Said the really jealous woman.”
She tried to hold in a laugh but failed. “Whatever. I’m leaving.”
The woman in question turns out to be one Darcy Gill, an attorney from San Francisco, who is interested in engaging Braddock’s services in a stay-of-execution appeal for convicted killer Russell Simington. Braddock appears singularly uninterested, so Gill plays her trump card: “Russell Simington is your father.” Not bad, as trump cards go.
Against his better judgement, Braddock visits Simington in San Quentin, and any doubts he had about Simington’s paternity disappear like smoke in the wind. Looking at Simington is like looking at a mirror image of himself, thirty-odd years down the road. There is no question about Simington’s guilt; he freely admits to the murders, and seems quite anxious to get the execution over with. There were some extenuating circumstances to the killings, however, and Braddock finds himself drawn into his father’s tale, even eager to help out.
It will prove Braddock’s undoing, in ways neither he nor the reader can imagine. Liquid Smoke is an altogether darker novel than any of the previous Braddock books, still full of the expected witty repartee, but with an edge this time around. It will set up the next few books in the series with an entirely different Noah Braddock, one I look forward to meeting.
Because my sister’s workplace (the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission, how cool an employer is that?) was a major sponsor of Stanfest (the Stan Rogers Folk Music Festival, in Canso, Nova Scotia, for those of you who have just tuned in) this year, she was able to promote not only free tickets for us, but also backstage passes to the performers’ lounge and (perhaps most importantly) the performers’ lunchroom, which served up some mighty fine lasagna and a wealth of high-calorie high-flavor snacks. There were real bathrooms in there (well, not in there exactly, but adjacent to the lunchroom), not the port-a-potty variety used by the majority of festival attendees. I cannot speak for the women’s room, but the men’s room featured rather close quarters, closer in fact than in any other men’s room I have ever visited. The urinals in particular, of which there were only two, offered an intimate experience hitherto unparallelled in my lifetime; there was no separating mini-wall, just two porcelain bowls separated by mere inches (actually centimeters; this is Canada after all). I happened to share my first moment there with Canadian singer Bruce Guthro, who observed wryly that it was a first for him as well, although not nearly so off-putting as one might initially expect. He left before I did, likely because he is a seasoned performer, and I (not being a performer, at least in front of other people) apparently suffered from temporary performance anxiety. We met up again outside, at which point he grinned and said “We’ll always have Canso”, or something along those lines.
Urinal encounters would become a running theme of Stanfest 2011 for me. There was a brief Highland dance with Scottish-originally-but-now-Canadian folksinger David Francey, as we jockeyed for position at the entrance, and a rather longer encounter with emcee Eric MacEwen, who regaled me with a hilarious tale of the search for Peter Yarrow mere moments before the sixties’ folk icon was due on the main stage (this tale began in the urinal, continued in the common area of the wash room, and concluded in the main lunchroom some ten minutes later, by which time several other folks were in rapt attendance, for Eric MacEwen is nothing if not an engaging storyteller). The story goes something like this (with allowances for beer and my notoriously cheeseclothy memory): the stage had been cleared from the previous act, the quirky and entertaining Crash Test Dummies.
Yarrow’s accompanist had already made it to the stage, and was in the process of doing a sound check on his accordion, but Peter Yarrow was nowhere to be found. Eric did a quick search of the performers’ area to no avail, and minions were sent hither and yon to root out the missing artist. Meanwhile, onstage, Eric improvised an introduction worthy of a James Michener novel, not knowing how long he would have to talk before Yarrow showed up: “I remember being in Boston in the sixties, a young disc jockey at station WBZ…“, touching upon the highlights of Yarrow’s career with Peter, Paul and Mary.
Every so often he would turn around to see if Yarrow had shown up, to no avail. And so he continued, recounting tales of the trio’s political involvements, their string of worldwide hits, their lifelong friendship. Still no Peter. Meanwhile, somebody found the missing artist keenly engaged in conversation with a fan, and told him he was needed backstage promptly, to which Yarrow allegedly replied “the world is my backstage…”, and continued talking with the fan. Eric was about out of anecdotes when Peter Yarrow ran onstage, a stage on which only Eric MacEwen was illuminated, I might add, so Yarrow was able to sneak up on Eric largely unnoticed by the audience. He embraced Eric in a bear hug from behind, lifting him entirely off the ground, a gesture clearly unexpected by the suddenly-quite-alarmed-looking Eric, who likely thought he was being abducted by aliens or terrorists. He regained his composure admirably, though, and quickly wrapped up his introduction, leaving the audience blissfully unaware of what had transpired over the previous ten minutes or so. Half an hour later or so, Eric had a new audience, this time in the urinal of the performers’ lunchroom, and I have transcribed as much of it as I can remember, although with nowhere near the immediacy or humor that Eric put into the telling.
Incidentally, earlier in the day, Peter Yarrow did a show at one of the numerous tents scattered around the Canso Fairgrounds. Saki and I met him before the show, where I had the opportunity to mention that I had been a fan of his since both he and I were kids. She mentioned that his most famous song, Puff the Magic Dragon, was very well known in Japan, and that the lyrics had been adapted into Japanese. He allowed as to having heard that at some point, and then surprised us immensely by singing a verse of the tune to “his new friend from Japan, in the front row”, entirely in Japanese! Here is a picture of Peter Yarrow and his exceptionally talented (if somewhat impromptu) backup chorus:
Sometimes things just all fall together; call it coincidence, call it a guiding force—whatever the case, my collision with the Stan Rogers Folk Festival this year was clearly propelled by something outside my limited ability to control the events of my life. I went to visit my sister outside Halifax for a few days last week, awaiting Saki’s arrival from Japan, after which several of us were to caravan to Canso, on the eastern tip of mainland Nova Scotia, for a three-day fix of World Music (for Stanfest has long strained against the boundaries of traditional acoustic folk music). As it happens, my sis works for the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission, one of the major sponsors of the festival, and there were several unspoken-for free passes to be had. She was able to snag four of them, and they entitled the holders not only to free entry to the grounds and all the shows, but also to the performers’ building, backstage, and basically every other nook and cranny on the site. And they were about $100 apiece cheaper than the tickets I would have otherwise purchased.
It promised to be a particularly good year for the festival, with a broad range of artists catering to fans of all ages, backgrounds, and musical tastes: the weirdly wonderful Crash Test Dummies; folk legend Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary); Nova Scotia native son Dave Gunning; multi-instrumental virtuoso J.P. Cormier; French folksinger Gabriel Yacoub; Cape Breton Celtic rocker Bruce Guthro; pop icon Dan Hill (“Sometimes When We Touch”), looking much different from how I remember him from the 1970s (duh!); Canadian folk poet laureate James Keelaghan; Newfoundland singer/songwriter Ron Hynes (“Sonny’s Dream”); and timeless septuagenarian Judy Collins, an artist I last had the pleasure of seeing in, I think, 1973.
We hit the road to Canso around 10am, after a pass through a Tim Hortons for a bit of morning sustenance (a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit, in case you’re interested) and a jolt of caffeine. The ride was pretty uneventful, really, unless you count the fact that the sun was shining, something of a rarity in eastern Canada thus far this year. We did most of the trip with the car top down, but for a short section of highway where the combination of 120k/h speeds and gusts of chilly ocean wind threatened a July frostbite. By two-thirty or so, we were pulling into the Seabreeze Campground, where we’ve stayed for the past several years of Stanfests (Stansfest?). We were about to receive another pleasant surprise: the daily rate for our cottage was cheaper than I remembered (although my memory is not the finely-tuned instrument it once was); let’s just say that it was less expensive than I had either expected or budgeted for. It is very difficult to get festival-weekend accommodations in Canso (population 900-ish, except for Stanfest weekend, when it swells to 10,000-ish), so we were truly delighted when our hostess, Ann Marie, put us on the permanent list for a Seabreeze cottage. Now we don’t have to reserve in advance anymore; we only have to phone if for some reason we cannot make it.
So far, so good. Free tickets, check. Sunny day, check. Timely arrival, check. No car problems, speeding tickets, road work delays, check (times three). Lovely room at equally lovely price, check. And bonus points to the truly outstanding Days Gone By bakery in Guysborough (just west of Canso), which against all odds was open on Canada Day; we picked up a weekend’s worth of cookies, small cakes and rolls (and they even gave us real butter and a plastic knife; how cool is that?). As I say, sometimes things just coalesce, in ways you can neither predict nor explain; you just roll with the waves and enjoy the ride.
Stay tuned; pics and links to artists to come!