Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
Don’t Let the Wind Catch You
By Aaron Lazar
Twilight Times Books
With every book in the LeGarde series, the reader gets to know Gus better, and the more we know of him, the more likeable he becomes. Rarely has an author given us such insight into a single character through a book series. We’ve met Gus as an adult in Upstaged, a grieving widower in Double Forte’, as a young boy in Tremolo: Cry of the Loon and now, in Don’t Let the Wind Catch You, as a 12 year old just at the point of becoming a teenager. It’s 1965 and Gus is starting to feel a growing attraction to his friend Elsbeth, who we know will later become his wife. Elsbeth and her brother Siegfried are his best friends and together they have lots of adventures. This summer they come across an old cabin in the woods and are surprised to find Tully, a cranky old man, talking to a ghost. Tully chases them off with a gun, but the trio of young detectives—especially the intrepid Elsbeth—is so intrigued that they go back again, forming an unlikely alliance with Tully as they attempt to uncover a long buried secret and free the spirit of Penaki.
As with all of Lazar’s novels, the books stand alone, with Lazar providing enough back material to enable readers to catch on quickly, but fans of the entire series will really enjoy the layering effect that comes from knowing Gus, Elsbeth and Siegfried at different stages of their lives, and of seeing hints and pivotal moments that led to events and character traits that appear in later books. There are plenty of links between the books too. As always, the writing is beautiful and delicate, rich with musical influence – in this case, the music of the 1960s, with the lovely local setting of the Genesee Valley. There are touches of history too as we learn about the Groveland Ambuscade, and delicious food that Gus’ mother cooks and Gus eats with relish:
Here you go. Now see, I’ve chopped up these things to add to them like toppings.” She pointed to the bowls lined up like little soldiers in a row. “Shredded cheese, black olives, pickles, tomatoes, lettuce. And this sauce here is to drizzle over the top.”
Gus himself is a great observer, and he pays great attention to the details of his surroundings, which really adds depth and interest to the book as we explore with his point of view:
A well pump protruded from a metal stand beside a wooden pie cabinet where the hermit kept his dishes. Another rough-hewn table stood near the tiny counter with salt and pepper shakers, a roll of paper towels, and a clean coffee mug on top. The rest of the cooking implements hung on a wall to the left of the front door. Two cast iron skillets, a big ladle, a soup pot, an assortment of small pots, and a red enamel coffee pot hung on hooks and nails. There was no refrigerator, and as we noticed yesterday, no electricity.
The warmth between the characters, the families, and the characters they meet is obvious in this tight-knit community, with the mystery unfolding gently. The book doesn’t shy from real issues, including homophobia, historical lies, murder, betrayal, and massacre, everything unfolds so gently, and with such good humour, that reading the book is an absolute joy. Despite the serious issues that the book addresses, this is as suitable for a young adult reader as for an adult, and will appeal to wide audience. It’s clear that Lazar has come to know and love his characters and every time he revisits them, he brings out new nuances and depths, so that returning to a Gus Lazar mystery is like meeting an old friend once again.
About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com.