The third Hector Bellevance police procedural THE ERRAND BOY releases next week, and it's an intriguing addition to the world of Vermont crime fiction. Don Bredes isn't just targeting the leftover back-to-landers and close-to-the-border drug handlers that populate his fictional state -- he's also laying out the conflicts of jurisdiction that take place so often in a rural region, where local police get brushed aside by county or state investigators. And heaven help us all when the federal agents step in.
But Hector Bellevance, town constable, knows Tipton better than any outsider could. When a youthful driver, Sebastian Tuttle, careens out of control toward Hector and his pregnant wife Wilma (yep, the same one he had such a hard time courting in Cold Comfort and The Fifth Season), Hector manages to push Wilma out of the way just in time, and takes the glancing impact of the car on himself. But -- disastrously -- Wilma lands with her head on a concrete slab and the impact does enough damage to put her into a coma.
When Hector, half crazed by the injury to his wife, tracks down the driver and his brother, murder cuts into the mess. Soon the proximity of the Canada border, the nastiness of factory farming (picture thousands of confined chickens, laying eggs and depositing, er, manure), and competition for breaking open a drug cartel complicate the life that Hector and Wilma and their 11-year-old daughter Myra have, where harvesting the beans and raspberries and getting them to market has to take priority over anything, yes, anything else. But now Hector is minus Wilma's help, and Myra takes to sitting at the hospital trying to get her mom to respond. So Hector's first level of panic is purely practical, local, and rural:
Myra hadn't brought in a quarter of the beans. Eighty feet of spinach needed cutting or it would bolt. The early raspberries would be dropping off the canes in another downpour. I had a round of deliveries to make tomorrow -- the beans and lettuces and spinach, plus trays of arugula, mesclun, basil, broccoli, dill, beet greens, and chard, none of them picked. And the raspberries. I had tomatoes to mulch, and asparagus, beets, leeks, onions, cabbages, and carrots to weed.
I had to find help.
Neighbor Hugh Gebbie steps up in the crisis, and also keeps Myra company as Hector drives around looking for the criminals and uncovering their network. But Hugh's laid-back caretaking doesn't prevent Myra being kidnapped, and that's about all it takes to push Hector into acting like a rogue police officer as he races to rescue his daughter.
Of course, he has folks he knows to ask about shady dealings. It's just a pity that he's trusting Kandi Henderson. She keeps showing that she's not the person he's always wanted her to be. Will he see her clearly enough, before innocent people are added to the criminals dying in the crisis?
Bredes has crafted a tightly plotted crime novel with local color that's vivid and often poignant, and his handling of Hector's midlife parenting and job-blending rings painfully true. Perhaps some officers would spend more time with an unconscious, hospitalized wife, or would keep their young daughter further away from the tasks of community policing -- yet Hector's choices reflect the character he's shown in the two previous novels, and when the strands of tension finally crest and resolve, the risks and losses are well balanced with what Hector and his friends and family can achieve.
Hurrah for this long-awaited Vermont tale!
[Looking for more info on Bredes? Click here.]