Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Tinsmith by Tim Bowling

The first part of Edmonton author Tim Bowling's The Tinsmith is set in the midst of the 1862 battle at Antietam during the American Civil War. Dr Anson Baird performs one surgery after another under primitive conditions. It was unrelentingly gruesome and I would have stopped reading except that Bowling's In the Suicide's Library was one of my favourite books last year. It took a little while, but once The Tinsmith sucked me in, I couldn't put it down.

Intrigue is introduced in the person of a young man dressed in an ill-fitting Yankee uniform. John spends many hours carrying wounded men to medical assistance. He is an escaped slave with very light skin, hiding in plain sight, and Anson helps him out.

John's backstory is revealed slowly over through the course of the novel. Twenty years after the war, he  is operating a salmon canning factory on the banks of the Fraser River in British Columbia. When trouble comes calling in the form of unscrupulous businessmen, John asks his old friend Anson for help once again.

Bowling is a master wordsmith. With its memorable characters, vivid settings and somber plot, I know the The Tinsmith will haunt me. It is currently one of the five finalists for the Alberta Readers' Choice Awards.

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