Note: Usually my blog is reserved for books I recommend, that merit 4 or 5 stars. Once in awhile I review a galley and find that my obligation to the author and publisher have bumped up against my blog policy. This is one of those times.
Killing Maine is a thriller, and like the one other book by this author that I’ve read, it’s a tale of grief, alienation, and grave concern regarding environmental degradation. Thank you once to Net Galley, then again to Mandevilla Press for the DRC. This novel can be purchased July 21.
The story starts out in high gear. Our protagonist, Pono Hawkins, has been called from his home in Hawaii to Maine. A man who saved his life during his years in military service has been jailed for a crime he didn’t commit. Pono has done time twice, and both times he was innocent. He’s been exonerated, and yet still has a criminal background that comes up when cops run him through the system. And as he talks about the ways in which America’s so-called justice system is broken, I hear him loud and clear.
From there, however, he takes the plot all over the place. There are three different women, and he falls madly in love with one named Abigail, but there is so little of substance about their first meeting that instead of engaging, I’m left scratching my head. Seriously?
Most of the plot, which takes wing when someone is shooting at him out in the frozen Maine hinterland, is built around the wind power industry, which is referred to here as the “Wind Mafia” and “Big Wind”. But instead of using it to move the plot forward, there is so much repetition that it seems to bog us down. He lays it on thickly enough that at the beginning I wonder what can be done about problems involving the use of wind energy and the environmental problems he tells us it creates. We have to have some form of energy other than fossil fuels, right? Coal is a bad solution. Hydroelectric power can only take us so far, especially with global warming causing some water sources to dry up, or nearly so. And so I am on board, and I am thinking about the problems with wind (politicians being corrupted by big businesses, be they wind or something else, seems like a given these days, and didn’t particularly move me), and wondering what alternatives we might have.
Bond uses the novel to address about half a dozen social and political issues—the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; lousy medical treatment of veterans; Agent Orange and Vietnam; and of course, environmental despoliation—and for ninety percent of the book, I am in complete agreement with him on all the issues he raises. How will a reviewer that disagrees with some or all of it see this novel?
Because when we come back around to Pono, the plot has so many holes in it. Pono doesn’t like Bucky, the man he has come to rescue, and Bucky will no longer see him when he drives to the jail to visit. The local heat is starting to harass him, and if he doesn’t leave the state soon, they’re going to tell him he can’t leave. Meanwhile, he is due in Fiji in a few weeks for a tsunami; he’s been hired to do a job there. And since there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of anything—the guy he doesn’t like that won’t see him; an old flame is one he’s decided not to rekindle—I can’t figure out why the protagonist wouldn’t just get on the plane and head for Fiji early. Surely he doesn’t genuinely believe that one man can derail the entire wind industry, along with the governor, senators, and other heavy-duty politicos, by himself and with the law hot on his trail.
Meanwhile, the writer continues to rail against “Big Wind” until I just want to throw up my hands and call it quits. And to be honest, were I not obligated to review the book, I probably would have just abandoned it at the point where the environmental concern turned into a diatribe. Enough, enough. I get it.
But I do read it, and so we continue, and there is one scene that seems real and is wonderfully done, in the midst of all of this other stuff, and that is the farewell scene between Pono and his dying father, which is poignant and moving; entirely authentic. It’s hard to see what schism makes it possible to write that scene so well and yet have so many plot problems elsewhere.
Had I still been on board at the point where he speaks about Gone With the Wind as if it is historically accurate, and paints General Sherman, one of my own greatest heroes, as a man who went in and wrecked everything, using the whole thing as a misbegotten metaphor for Maine, I think I would have stepped back a bit. If a novelist wants to be accurate with his real-world facts, then get all of them straight. But the fact is, after about the first half of the book I wasn’t really on board.
Readers of Bond’s who have grown fond of his writing style may have a good time here. For me, it seemed like a good opportunity lost.