Thursday, November 18, 2010


Sadly, author William G. Tapply passed away in July of last year.
He is best known for his 26 novels featuring lawyer/sleuth Brady Coyne. (Three of these were collaborations with friend and fellow author Philip R. Craig, featuring Coyne in alternating chapters with Craig's series character JW Jackson; Mr. Craig passed away in 2007.)

While I read a few of the Coyne novels and liked them well enough, for whatever reason I never really got "into" them. Such was not the case, however, when I discovered Tapply's second series character, Stoney Calhoun, in his 2004 debut novel, Bitch Creek. Truth to tell, it was the title that first attracted me. After that, however, it was the setting of the tale, the plot, the crisp writing style, and as much as anything the character of Calhoun  himself that hooked me and kept me on the lookout for more.

Stoney Calhoun is a true man of mystery. After surviving a lightning strike, he leaves a hospital in Arlington, VA, with only fragments of his memory intact. He is told his name is Stonewall Jackson Calhoun and that he grew up in South Carolina. He is discharged with $25,000 in his pocket, along with a Visa credit card in his name. Further, he is promised that monthly deposits of money --- enough so that he will never have to work another day in his life if he doesn't want to --- will be made in a bank of his choosing as soon as he settles down somewhere ... The people telling him these things avoid clearly identifying themselves, leaving Calhoun (and the reader) to speculate they must be some kind of government spooks and that Stoney, in his former and forgotten life, must have served them in some way that leaves them highly indebted to him.

Despite his alleged ties to the south, Calhoun feels irresistably drawn to Maine and it is there that he heads and there that this series becomes anchored. He takes on a part-time job (and eventually co-ownership) of a small bait-and-tackle shop on Casco Bay near Portland, mainly because he is attracted to the shop's proprietor, lovely Kate Balaban.

Altough there are huge gaps in Stoney's memory there also are flashes of deeds, faces, and skills from his past. He can't associate any direct links to the deeds or faces, but certain skills that he possesses --- self-defense capabilities, knowledge of firearms and criminal investigation techniques --- indicate he's had extensive training by some sort of law enforcement agency. This, in addition to his proficiency at mechanics, carpentry, tying lures, fishing, boating, and other outdoor activities.

All of these skills --- especially in the area of his criminal investigation abilities --- are brought into play as this series of three books unfolds.
In the first, Bitch Creek (2004), Stoney helps investigate the murder of a fellow guide as he all the while fights a gnawing suspicion that he himself may have actually been the intended victim.
In Gray Ghost (2007), the local sheriff asks for Stoney's assistance investigating a series of grisly murders where the victims' bodies are set on fire and left to be found as charred remains.
In Dark Tiger (2009), the mysterious government spook who has periodically been checking up on Stoney to see if any significant parts of his memory are returning, shows up once again. Only this time his purpose is more than just to check up --- he coerces Stoney into going undercover as a fishing guide at a high-end fishing lodge in remote Maine. Once in place he is to determine what a government operative was doing at the lodge --- where he wasn't supposed to be --- and what brought about his death, which has been rigged to look like a murder/suicide.

All of these books are finely plotted, the writing is terrific, and the locales and characters are distinct and memorable. But most intriguing of all, as mentioned above, is the character of Calhoun himself.
One can only wonder how Stoney's character would have further evolved and what future adventures Tapply may have had in mind for him.
These novels are available through Amazon, AbeBooks, etc. If you haven't read them, they are definitely worth tracking down. Highly recommended.

Persevere --- WD

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