A review of Tremolo: Cry of the Loon by Aaron Paul Lazar

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Tremolo: Cry of the Loon
A Gus LeGarde Mystery
By Aaron Paul Lazar
Twilight Times Books
November 15th, 2007, ISBN-13: 978-1933353081, Paperback: 230 pages

Aaron Paul Lazar is more than just a storyteller. He’s the kind of generous writer that seems to have the reader’s enjoyment at the forefront of his mind at all times. It isn’t only that his stories are written in easy to read prose which manage to toe the line between literary panache and simplicity; it’s also that he has mastered the art of taking the reader to an alternative place, and does it so gently and warmly that it feels like being in an easy chair with a dear relative, listening to a tale delivered with avuncular care.

Fans of Lazar’s earlier Gus LeGarde detective novels would be familiar with the subtle way that Lazar builds suspense, allowing the intrinsic curiosity and compassion of LeGarde’s character to lead the plot towards a satisfying conclusion. But in this book, we are given a portrait of the detective as a young man. It is 1964 and Gus is eleven years old. He is on his annual summer vacation at a camp in Maine run by his grandparents. Together with his friends – twin brother and sister Siegfried and Elspeth Marggrander – Gus enjoys small scale adventures around the local lake and woods, and a relatively serene, innocent existence, until he comes across a frightened girl running through the forest. The look on the girl’s cut face and the intensity of her fear impress themselves on Gus, and from that point on, he is caught up in a mystery that sits at the cusp of his developing sense of self.

The first person narrative is well handled, creating a believable eleven-year-old voice which is nonetheless infused with the kind of nostalgia that only comes from reflection and maturity. The novel reads like a memoir. We know that the world isn’t perfect and the knowledge of the ugliness is lurking in the woods, and Gus’ awakening to the notion of this evil, which is beautifully mirrored in his confused experience of the film To Kill A Mockingbird, lends poignancy to the story. The prose is sensual and full of a boy’s perspective of detail. There is an immediacy which drives the narrative forward:

I pumped my legs harder. William and the twins scrambled over a stone wall that separated the woods from the field. I’d nearly reached it when I tripped on an abandoned berry basket and went down. I fell face first onto the wet grass and my right knee skidded along the ground. Winded, it took me a moment to recover. The headlights grew brighter as the car rolled toward me. Moving like a snake, I slithered toward the stone wall and flattened against the base of the rocks in the tall grass. My flashlight dug into my side. I removed it and slid it into the other pocket, then forced myself to lie motionless on the ground as my lungs heaved, loud and raspy. (81)

But Tremolo is also languid, taking the reader into the beauty of the landscape and the flora and fauna of this lovely part of the US, as well as into the specifics that characterised this time. Gus’ reaction to the film To Kill a Mockingbird and his parents’ honest and thoughtful answers pick up on the theme of Gus’ coming of age: his first crush, his sense of other people, both within and outside of his circle. The use of the film also lends a flavour of the era, which is further heightened by a visit from a fictionalised and disguised Rose Kennedy, coming to recover from the death of her son. The personal grief and motherly love of Mrs. Kennedy mingles with the grand scale of the JFK assassination, and mirrors the good and bad parenting we see in this story, allowing it to impact on the reader at many levels.

What makes this book work so well is how it moves beyond genre, to illuminate a critical period in his hero’s life, showing just how the warmth and honesty in his family life have given rise to an integrity which makes him more than simply a clever detective. His character creates a theme that works throughout all of the Gus LeGarde books, and, I suspect, a theme that may well be present in all of Lazar’s work. This is a fast moving, wonderfully written book that will please a wide range of readers as it gets into the heart of what matters in life. It’s slight old-fashioned style and nostalgia are all part of the charm.

Magdalena Ball is the author of Sleep Before Evening, The Art of Assessment, and Quark Soup.