COUNTY LINE by Bill Cameron: a book review

Bill Cameron’s new release COUNTY LINE occupied a special place in my heart long before the final draft was finished. Because I got to name a character in it [see links below]. I know how much time and attention writers give to naming characters, so I expected the character with the name I chose — Nash — would be killed off at the earliest opportunity. Imagine my surprise and delight when Chief Nash not only survived but also turned out to be someone who was mentioned more than casually. He even has lines of dialog. (BTW, I really really REALLY like this character.)

Oh, but wait, before I go any further, thanks to the FTC and my conscience, probably you should know the following, if you don’t already:

DISCLAIMER #1:  I am not a book reviewer. You can tell because I do it all wrong and go on at length here before I even get around to talking about the book.

DISCLAIMER #2:  Bill Cameron is a Very Nice Guy and I kinda like him, even though I’ve never met him, and not just because he’s one of three people who will occasionally talk to me on twitter (okay, there are maybe four). I mean, really, he could be from Minnesota. He’s that nice. Even his agent is nice. (What? She totally let me win that bid.)

DISCLAIMER #3:  I did not pay for my copy of COUNTY LINE so, technically, it was free. Then again, I only got a free copy because I was the highest bidder (aka, Most Tenacious Participant) in one segment of an online auction held last spring to benefit flood victims in Nashville. As a result, I also received “free” copies of Cameron’s other books: LOST DOG, CHASING SMOKE and DAY ONE as well as the anthology KILLER YEAR in which he has a short story. Since it’s public knowledge that my bid was $333.00, one might alternately conclude that I paid $66.60 for each of those five books. I know, that’s sort of ridiculous, budget-wise, except it was for a good cause. And a rare opportunity to have fun and say completely outrageous things in public.

In any event, one might question my judgment here, either as a reviewer or a purchaser of books. Probably both. And you might be right, but the fact is that I read a crap ton of books and rarely review one and only do so when I think it is in some way exceptional.

So… in my humble opinion, you all should buy COUNTY LINE simply for the exceptional dedication. And because I’m also mentioned in the acknowledgments.

Okay fine, I’ll be serious.

In spite of receiving those four books from Bill Cameron roughly a year ago, I haven’t read any of them. Partly that’s because I’ve become thoroughly addicted to ebooks and the books I received were print versions and they were so… damn… heavy. I mean, they each weigh, like, fifty pounds. Maybe more. Plus there’s all that strenuous manual labour of turning pages…

The real reason? I started reading DAY ONE and got about a half chapter into it and, even though it was interesting and well written, I just knew it was not going to end with rainbows and unicorns. My head was in a very dark place at that time and I pretty much needed to read something more along the lines of lighthearted romance. So I set it aside. And never got back to it. My bad.

Then, a couple weeks ago, along comes COUNTY LINE. Finally! Cameron sent me the ebook version (and incredibly, generously, also put a signed HC copy to me in the mail!) (did I mention he’s nice?), so no excuses about weak arm muscles and lack of stamina. I’ve been SO looking forward to this book but was genuinely afraid to read it. Because, you know, I really kinda like Bill Cameron. What if I hated his book? Crime fiction is not exactly my favourite genre, though I can overlook that. But what if he wasn’t as good a writer as I suspected he was? What if I had nothing positive to say about this book? What if there were plot holes and inconsistencies and… and… and, I don’t know, typos! Or BEARS!!

Have I ever mentioned my tendency to worry needlessly? I need to stop doing that.

Here’s the actual review. Once Amazon fixes the unholy mess they made by listing information about a completely different book, I’ll post it over there too:

COUNTY LINE is a masterpiece of storytelling. Some critics have described it as “crime noir” — I’m not entirely certain what that means, but it seems to fit: the book has an undeniably dark tone and crimes are committed. It’s a genre in which I’m not well read. But I know good writing when I see it, regardless of genre, and in reading this book it became patently obvious very early on that Cameron is a fiercely talented writer.

The protagonist, Skin Kadash, a homicide cop for 25 years, is now retired and living in Portland, OR. Ruby Jane, the woman he cares about — even he seems reluctant to define her as something more serious, given that he’s not quite sure his feelings are reciprocated — has gone missing. And there’s a dead guy in her bathtub. So Kadash sets out on a mission to find her. This book is about his relentless journey halfway across the country and back, and deep into Ruby Jane’s painful past, to find a woman who seems determined not to let anyone discover where, or who, she really is.

Kadash is smart and also a bit of a smart-ass. He’s wryly self-deprecating while at the same time projecting a tough quiet confidence in his knowledge and experience as a cop. He’s not afraid of physical pain, in fact seems to expect it, but is vulnerable to emotional anguish — his own, but especially that of others. It’s a delicate balance and Cameron draws that line with finesse.

Ruby Jane is a pure mess. We see her primarily though the hellish yet oddly matter-of-fact first hand account of events from her distant past. She’s a character featured in earlier books, but I haven’t read those so my first impressions are not of her as a grown woman but as a teen, a girl with experiences and responsibilities beyond her years. Her story is heartbreaking without being maudlin. Her strength and resilience stand as defiant affirmation without the lecture. Again, an incredibly difficult but brilliant characterization.

In fact, the depictions of Ruby Jane’s horribly dysfunctional home life and of teenage girls with their capacity for cliquish cruelty are handled so well, with such simple unflinching authenticity, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend COUNTY LINE as a YA selection.

Cameron employs a complicated and potentially disjointed method of telling this story, switching between present and past events and offering narrative from diverse alternate points of view, but he pulls it all together seamlessly. There’s just enough wry humour to keep it from being too dark, just enough sensitivity to serve as a salve to the brutality, and definitely enough “what the hell is going on?” to make it gripping and unpredictable all the way to the end.

I highly recommend COUNTY LINE to anyone who loves a darkly compelling story with flawed yet fascinating characters and appreciates a writer who demonstrates a commanding facility with language. Not to mention a deft hand with a dedication.

I’m giving it 5/5 stars.

Frankly, I’m sort of intimidated now, in awe of Cameron’s talent as a writer, and will probably never talk to him on twitter, ever again. [Did I just hear a distant sigh of relief?]

Not that I’ll have time to spend on twitter any time soon. I’m going to have to start lifting weights so I can read that hefty backlist of his sitting over there on my bookshelf, sulking in all its neglected magnificence.

Or maybe I’ll just buy the ebook versions…


Filed under book reviews

15 responses to “COUNTY LINE by Bill Cameron: a book review

  1. Did I ever mention that you worry needlessly about your capability to write a book review?
    Well, then I won’t take up space mentioning it here. I’ll save it for another comment.

    This review piqued my interest, aroused my curiosity, and got me wondering. I will definitely look for it. (Does it only /start/ in Portland or does a good part of the story take place here before it starts wandering off into them Eastern lands?)


  2. Merry, I thought about you a couple times while reading this, wondering whether you’d find familiarity in the descriptions of Portland. Though I kind of doubt you spend much time in seedy alleys…

    The majority of it takes places elsewhere, but part of Cameron’s talent is describing places and he gives the city equal time on the page. Plus he lives there (or nearby). I think in his earlier books — which I’ve also heard referred to as “Portland noir” — the characters stay closer to home.


  3. Bill's Agent

    I’m not nice at all. Im coming over to your house and bringing bears to prove it. Ok, gummibears, but BEARS!


  4. Oh noes! Not BEARS!

    You can’t fool me. I can see you’re just a nice huggable fluffy bunny of an agent. Hang on, let me clean my computer screen…

    Oh. You’re very blue. And… are those teeth?


  5. It was Bill’s agents post about your book review that brought me here and I am ever so delighted to have visited! I love your blog and truly enjoyed this review. It is done with a clarity and honesty often lost due to what I only can assume is intimidation in book reviews.
    I am already googling his name simultaneously as I type this comment (multi-tasking show off? Why yes I am… ;o) )
    Oh and I was right there with you during Do the Write Thing, bidding and loving this community more than ever. I am a contributor with ALL 4 ALABAMA Tornado Relief Auctions and I have found that I am still so proud to be a member of this glorious writing community.


  6. Wow! Color me intrigued! I’m not a crime noir person either, but I read a lot of YA and this story would have escaped me but for this review. I’ll check it out! Thanks!


  7. McB

    It’s set in Oregon? I’m sure they have BEARS there. And yet you read the book anyway. That’s a recommendation in itself!


  8. Thanks for stopping by, Anne and Courtney. I hope you give COUNTY LINE a try — and that you enjoy it as much as I did!

    McB, I know. I was very brave. Luckily, there weren’t any BEARS in the book. Whew.

    [Anyone wondering about the whole BEAR thing, it’s sort of a running joke over here. My daughter tends to spend her free time camping and hiking in places where there are BEARS. This week, she’s in Yosemite. Sigh.]

    Ahem. Not that I’m complaining or anything, but next time a certain someone sends FIVE BILLION PEOPLE to my blog, it would be nice to have some advance notice. I mean, I maybe would have dusted before I left for work. Or made cookies. Deleted the entire mess. Something.


  9. I found my way here via Janet Reid’s blog, and this review makes me feel better about my own. I don’t write them “correctly” either. I don’t usually wander outside the fantasy and science fiction section, but you’ve convinced me I should try this one. Love your style.

    And don’t worry about a little dust. I’ll just plunk myself down over here. You’ll barely notice me. 😀


  10. Awesome review! Count me as another who found you while wandering around in Janet’s blog. I’ll definitely be giving this book a try. I don’t mind dust, life is too short to dust. Now cookies…I could do with a cookie! 😀


  11. I read a lot of mysteries, and yet I somehow missed this one. I’ll have to remedy that! And I’ll second what Merry said – you write a helluva review! Stop over at Barnes & Noble’s Mystery Forum at sometime, especially if you have other mysteries like this to recommend!


  12. me

    Wait … All this time, there could have been cookies?

    Heading to the bookstore this weekend, will definitely look for this one. You make it sound too intruiging. As I’m sure it is.


  13. I knew it was a mistake to mention cookies . . .

    I’m so happy to hear you all are willing to try a new-to-you writer. Becke, it’s brand new, so don’t feel bad about “missing” it. And as nice as it is to get compliments (thank you!) it’s an even better feeling to spread the word about a terrific book.


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