We all have our vision of the placid life in small and typically picturesque Vermont communities, uncongested towns surrounded by hills, close to lakes, rivers and streams, and populated by sturdy, self-reliant men and women who appreciate hard work, outdoor sports and church suppers.
But tranquility is not guaranteed in all these lovely places, and it certainly doesn’t exist in novels by the likes of Don Bredes, who lives in the Northeast Kingdom and whose writing conveys not just his affection for the region but also his understanding that human nature often comes with serious flaws and worrisome traits. And, of course, human nature cannot be defined in geographic terms. In these serene hills, there may be various forms of evil lurking behind the pastoral façade.
And, at this time in our history, one of those forms of evil often involves the cultivation and distribution of illegal drugs. In “The Errand Boy,” ambitious crooks from Quebec believe they can carry out their criminal schemes on this side of the border and dish out serious discouragement to those who would stand in their way.
Bredes’ central character is Hector Bellevance, a former Boston homicide detective who serves as the constable in a small town not far from the Canadian border. The exact circumstances of Bellevance’s departure from the big-city police department are not explained, but it’s clear that some of his fellow lawmen – in particular, state police assigned to the region – speculate that he was, in effect, run out of town because of some unidentified misdeed.
To them, Bellevance may be the town constable, but that doesn’t mean he has earned their trust or their respect. And, besides, they consider themselves the real deal. At best, he’s an annoyance, and at worst, they suspect, he may be protecting someone or impeding their own investigation. Who knows what his personal relationships are with the various suspects? In small towns, everybody seems to know everybody else, and, worse, these relationships are often downright murky to outsiders.
Bellevance’s plunge into a deadly web of deceit and distrust begins when his pregnant wife is left in a coma after being struck by a speeding luxury car driven by a young member of a wealthy Quebec family that has erected a controversial egg production facility on a local hillside. The car appears to have been deliberately aimed at the constable and his wife. Why would that be?
That egg facility is not only a blight on the landscape and probably a source of pollution, it also brings an intolerable invasion of heavy trucks on local roads that were never designed to support such a volume of traffic. It is a constant source of considerable resentment and unrest in the community. Tempers flare. Accusations fly back and forth. The constable already has his hands full, but his task is further complicated when the driver of the car is found beaten to death in a trailer park, apparently the victim of a drug deal gone sour. There’s a precocious female sex offender living in the trailer park. Might she be involved?
But that’s just the backdrop. Or part of it. Another part involves an old unsolved murder and a suspect who is widely resented because nearly everyone believes he has gotten away with it. Worse, he’s part of an unseemly fringe element that makes the decent, law-abiding people in the community uncomfortable. There are even visits from Canadian-based Hells Angels disciples intent on protecting an illicit enterprise right under the constable’s nose.
In the meantime, Bellevance not only has to cope with the knowledge his wife is in a coma but the fact that his testy 11-year-old daughter believes he’s allowing his zeal to deal with the crime situation (and perhaps augment his reputation among fellow law enforcement personnel) distract him from taking proper care of her mother. Their conflict makes his already difficult life more frustrating, but if he thinks things are tough, they will get much worse.
Ultimately, Bellevance’s stubborn go-it-alone approach puts a major investigation – and a person’s life – in jeopardy. And he ignores attempts to steer him away.
There are several expertly crafted scenes of suspense before the drama winds down, and they’re enough to keep even the most serene Vermont reader up past bedtime. That’s what good authors are supposed to do, right?
— Reviewed by A.C. Hutchison, September 13, 2009
A.C. Hutchison retired as editor of The Times Argus in 1999.