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Winter Tides
James P. Blaylock
Ace Books, 341 pages

Winter Tides
James P. Blaylock
Living in Orange CA with his wife, Viki, and children, James Blaylock teaches creative writing at Chapman University. He was born in 1950 in Long Beach and he studied English at California State University (Fullerton) where he received an MA in 1974.

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A review by Rodger Turner

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First things first. James Blaylock is one of my two favourite writers. If publishers do for him what they have done for J. R. R. Tolkien, I'll buy it, I'll read it and I'll probably swoon with enjoyment. Maybe I wouldn't swoon over his character lists or idea tags or his maps. Probably I'll just smirk or giggle. But I'll swoon over his use of words, his mix of character mannerisms and maybe even his Ashbless poetry (my friend Charles would blanch at that admission).

Fifteen years earlier, a surfer by the name of Dave Quinn was about to leave the beach after a day on his board. He noticed two girls, twins he thought, playing in the surf. He knew the tides were up and it wouldn't take much for them to be drawn into the undertow. The further they moved away from their mother, the more anxious Dave became. He took off after them when both girls were swept away. One, Anne, he was able to toss back onto the beach but the other, Elinor, was being pulled out to sea. He managed to grab her but they were both pulled out beyond the breakers. Losing body heat and wearying from trying to keep the girl afloat, Dave's brain flashes on a scene where she disappears from his arms just as a wave drags her away. Distraught, he leaves the beach without meeting the family.

As the novel starts, Dave is working for a small theatre supply company as a handyman. His boss, Earl Dalton, aka the Earl of Gloucester, leaves him alone to work his own hours, to do what needs to be done whether it is to build sets for local productions, to fix up the supply warehouse or to manage the constant flow of supplies going in and out. Casey, one of the Earl's sons, is Dave's best friend. Edmund, the other son, is a royal pain. Not just for Dave but for almost everyone who comes into contact with him. Just ask Ray Mifflin, a seedy notary public, whom Edmund maneuvers into certifying quitclaim deeds for properties he's stealing from the Earl. Or maybe "Red" Mayhew, a derelict whom Edmund passes off as the Earl to make the claim and chisels out of a few bucks for the charade. Then there is Lewis Collier, living rent-free with his grand-daughter in one of the Earl's houses beside the warehouse, who knows Edmund set fire to his truck after stuffing it with porno just to get Collier in trouble with Family Services. But the best one to ask is Anne who is drawn to town and is hired as a set decorator and painter by the Earl. Yep, same Anne. Within the first four days, Edmund buys a batch of her paintings, hangs around the front of her apartment to meet her "by chance" while jogging, asks her to go to Mexico with him, sneaks into her rooms and changes a bedroom door lock so he can spy on her, steals some of her sister's art work and has the gall to be offended when she won't go out on a date with him.

For me, meeting a character like Edmund (not Ed, "Edmund") is creepy. I've met a few people like him over the years. When I've shaken hands, I've counted my fingers. Such people, invariably male, deem themselves to be the centre of the universe, all events revolve about them. I'll bet you've met one or two. My astonishment comes from their lack of moral understanding. How can they seem to continue to pull off the stunts that they do and get away with it? Where do they come from? What event in their life changed them from seemingly average human beings into ones who prey on the kindness of others? Is it one event, a series of them or are they born that way and mature into it? And why are they so surprised when called to task? I dunno. I'll bet you don't either.

I was about halfway through Winter Tides when these thoughts struck me. Here is a writer with an unusual attachment to sea creatures, who is so inventive he could portray a quirk with a phrase, who's made me snigger and snort too many times to count, who has wrung most of my emotional spectrum in each of his books. But where were all these devices? I guess I missed them. But no, they are there, more subtle that before. For me, however, the sheer maliciousness with which Edmund goes through life has made Winter Tides one of Blaylock's most intriguing novels to date.

Copyright © 1997 by Rodger Turner

Rodger has read a lot of science fiction and fantasy in forty years. He can only shake his head and say, "So many books, so little time." More of his opinions are available on our Book Reviews pages.


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