Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Book: THE GHOST OCEAN by Richard Benke

The first edition dustjacket is beautiful, the telephone poles, front and back, being symbols of man's intrusion into the natural world.  There is a fine foreword by one of my favorite western novelists, Max Evans, whose works I plan to discuss some Wednesday soon.

This is a murder mystery first, but as in a lot of the books I recommend, it it not a simple case of whodunit rather but a novel of ideas.  The murdered girl is discovered in the opening chapter.  The suspects include bandits, smugglers of drugs or of illegal immigrants, ranchers, miners, loggers, or either side of the ecological war--including liberal ecologists who want to reintroduce the wolf to the country and desparate ranchers trying to preserve their way of life.

Bureaucrats have their own political interests to protect, and all the suspects here have a thoughtful mix of motives and complicity making the reader reconsider the greater morality and necessary practicality in the issues at hand.

I read the book right after it came out back in 2004 and recommended it at some other booksites across the web.  Just now, I looked it up at Amazon and see only one review of it there, a one-star flame by a wildly disgruntled reader.  Good grief, I'll have to add my review there, for this is certainly an excellent if already forgotten novel.

The murder mystery drives the plot and the ideas are discussed on the surface, but the novel also works as a parable.  The protagonist, Will Mann, is like Keith Heller's George Man that I discussed last month (link), an everyman just trying to do the right thing.

Things get complicated in the The Ghost Ocean, probably why that lone reviewer at Amazon didn't like the book.  When rereading it this week, it made me think at times of Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing and Rick Bass's The New Wolves and The Ninemile Wolves.  But it also made me think of  David Baron's The Beast In The Garden.

Then there is my own experience with wild things.  I'm liberal and an animal lover, and when they talked about increasing the deer population here in Kentucky, I thought it might not be a bad idea.  So they did, unfortunately by importing deer from the west, and this has had unintended consequences.  Now there are deer all over the place, a hazard to farmers and drivers and, although you might not think so, to the human population at large.

So hazardous have the deer become to traffic, the Kentucky bureaucrats decided to do something about it.  They started importing coyotes from the western states.  Although coyotes won't take down an adult deer, they explained, they will go after the young and newly born, thus helping to curb the deer population.

It wasn't long until the city fella who farms on weekends across from our place knocked on our door.  Said something must be done about our dogs, they were killing his calves.  I had to inform him of the coyote problem.  I told him he need only come around at night to hear them yip and see them run across his fields.

But the coyotes were not the worst problem.  The deer and coyotes brought something else, a danger to us all.

When I was growing up, most of the ticks we saw were what we called dog ticks.  We easily de-ticked our dogs and only rarely found one on one of us.  With the increase in deer population, suddenly deer ticks were all over the farm.  Deer ticks are small, sometimes pinhead size, nasty little devils that are not so easy to find on your dog or on yourself.

The not-so-easy-to-diagnose diseases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease have now struck some of our neighbors, and thus the small ticks have become an everyday threat.  Just this month,  we see where our local hospital is being sued for not diagnosing a case of the tick-transmitted disease in time to prevent someone from extreme suffering.

As I said, The Ghost Ocean is a splendid murder mystery.  Life and literature go hand-in-hand, and life gets complicated.  We ought not live in denial of the complications.

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