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Smoke
William Sanders
Xlibris, 215 pages

Smoke
William Sanders
William Sanders characterizes himself as "a 56-year-old redbone hillbilly who lives in Tahlequah, Oklahoma (yes, there really is a Tahlequah; Letterman didn't make it up), in a little old rock house, along with a hostile cat named Billie and his computer Gwendolyn, with which latter he has a very strange and not entirely healthy relationship." Some of his other books include Pockets of Resistance, The Hellbound Train and The Wild Blue and the Gray.

William Sanders Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Journey to Fusang
SF Site Review: Are We Having Fun Yet?
SF Site Review: The Ballad of Billy Badass and the Rose of Turkestan
Stone Dragon Press

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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William Sanders is one of the best contemporary SF writers, as evidenced by short stories such as the Sidewise Award winner "The Undiscovered", "Elvis Bearpaw's Luck", and "Jennifer, Just Before Midnight", as well as such novels as The Ballad of Billy Badass and the Rose of Turkestan, which made SF Site's list of the best novels of 1999. His reputation in the field was established with his excellent alternate-history novel Journey to Fusang back in 1988. But he's very versatile, and he's written in a variety of genres. I've never been disappointed by a Sanders story, whatever the genre. Besides his SF, he's done quite a few mystery novels, including the Taggart Roper series. His newest novel, Smoke, is a straight mystery, but on the principle that many SF readers also read mystery, especially when it's written by a writer they already know from his SF, here's a review.

The midlist is famously a dangerous place for writers, these days. So Sanders has turned to Xlibris to self-publish his last two novels, The Ballad of Billy Badass and the Rose of Turkestan and Smoke. I've got copies of both in large-sized paperback, and the presentation and quality are wholly professional.

Smoke features a Cherokee woodcarver from Oklahoma named Hosea Smoke. He is spending a week at a small college in Oklahoma City, at a Native American art fair, exhibiting his carvings. Among the other exhibitors is a rather obnoxious man named Esau Brown, suspected by many of faking his claims to Indian ancestry. When Smoke and his nephew Mason Littlehorse, a probationary member of the college's security staff, discover the dead body of Esau Brown in his trailer, there are plenty of suspects, including a man who was trying to get him thrown out of the exhibition for being a phony Indian, his ex-wife, and possibly even Justin Hatner, the very rich oilman who had earlier felt defrauded by Brown.

When Hosea finds that Esau Brown had left him a suspicious package in his car just before Esau's death, he finds himself involved in the murder investigation against his better instincts. The situation is further complicated by his desire to help the career of his nephew, and still further complicated by the sudden interest the Hatner family shows in his work. So, with the help of Mason's fellow "token" on the college security force, a Jewish woman named Susan Rifkin, and Hosea's friend and fellow artist Buster Tenbears, he starts to try to track down some of the curious loose ends surrounding the case.

The mystery is solid enough, with a logical but slightly surprising resolution. However, as with all the best mysteries, that's not the main reason to enjoy the book. The story is more than just the solving of the mystery: it's also a story about Hosea's life, and Buster's, and Mason's, and Susan Rifkin's, and the Hatner families: and those stories are all interesting of themselves. The characters are convincing and wholly real, lived-in, not heroes particularly but (mostly) decent people that any of us might know. The writing is engaging: I've said before that Sanders is a raconteur, a natural storyteller, and that proves true here as elsewhere. The book is just enjoyable to read from start to finish. The view of contemporary Indian life from the inside is intriguing, as well. Smoke is a very fine contemporary mystery novel, and I urge you to trot over to Xlibris and give it a try.

Copyright © 2001 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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