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End of summer reading

Two recent debut novels are worth checking out if you’re looking for something to close out your summer reading.

“Dragonfish” (Norton) by Vu Tran is a nourish thriller set in contemporary Las Vegas. It’s the tale of an Oakland cop who’s till enamored of his ex-wife who left him sometime back and moved to Vegas where she’s hooked up with and married a notorious Vietnamese drug smuggler.

When she goes missing, the smuggler ends up blackmailing the cop into searching for her through the less than glowing neon underbelly of Vegas. In doing so, he uncovers the ghosts of not only his ex-wife’s past but also the fallout that came about with the fall of Saigon after the Vietnam War.

Told in riveting prose that, early on, sucks you in, this novel is more than your usual crime thriller. It’s an object lesson, a beautifully told story, about the ghosts of the past and their hold on the present.

Another debut, “Fourth of July Creek” (Ecco) by Smith Henderson is set in present day Montana. It’s the story of a more than slightly scarred social worker who sets out to help a feral and malnourished kid living by hook and crook in the Montana wilderness.

In trying to save the kid, the social worker’s own family situation begins to deteriorate as he’s drawn into a web of odd characters that populate the country around the sort-of-1980s fictional town of Tenmile, Montana.

In addition to evocations of the splendors of Montana’s natural environment, we get the usual Western assortment of coots and codgers who’ve spent way too long drinking in the Ten High bar but also an assortment of recent arrivals — neo-Nazi’s, survivalists, Bible-bangers, surreptitious weed growers. It is not long before you can sense the imminent arrival of both the FBI and ATF agents.

In conjuring these characters and setting them adrift together, we get an assaying of what freedom might mean in twentieth century Montana (and the rest of the West for that matter) and what comes when these different versions collide.

The Churchill Arts Council’s 2015 – 2016 season kicks off next month with two events. Wyoming artist Tawni Shuler will give a talk on her exhibition at the Art Center on September 12 and the popular Americana band, The Leftover Cuties will perform on September 26.

We’ll have more information on these events in next couple of weeks.

Kirk Robertson writes about the arts and may be reached at news@lahontanvalleynews.com.