Friday, June 17, 2011

"Revolver" Loaded With Suspense

"Even the dead tell stories."

So begins Marcus Sedgwick's terrific novel “Revolver” (Roaring Book Press, 2010), a Prinz Honor Book for 2011. Fourteen year-old Sig Andersson had heard his father say these words many times before. Now, with his father's frozen corpse lying on the table in his family's cabin somewhere north of the Arctic Circle, Sig waits for the dead man's story to unfold.

The main action of Revolver takes place in just three days in 1910 outside of Giron, a lonely outpost in northern Scandinavia. The Giron chapters are interspersed with passages set in Nome, Alaska in 1899-1900 that fill in the back-story. Sig has found his father, fallen halfway through the ice where he’d tried to cross the nearby lake on his dogsled. Sig realizes that his father must have been in a terrible rush to get home, violating his own advice, "Never cross the lake by the river mouth; the ice is always thinner there. Even in wintertime." But what—or who—could have caused his father to abandon all caution in his haste to get home?

After his sister and stepmother (their mother was murdered in Nome) leave to get help, Sig’s first clue to the mystery of his father’s death arrives in the form of a terrifying visitor, a giant of a man named G√ľnter Wolff. Wolff claims that Sig’s father owes him a share of gold, stolen while both were working in Nome. Sig knows nothing of the gold; neither does his sister Anna, who returns alone. Now both Sig and Anna are Wolff’s captives. He makes it clear that he will kill one of them to get the other to reveal the location of the stolen gold.

Sig realizes that their only hope lies in his father’s beloved Colt revolver, hidden in the storeroom near the cabin. Although Sig’s mother and stepmother were both devout, nonviolent women who hated the revolver, Sig’s father called it, “the most beautiful thing in the world…after your sister, and your dear mother, that is…. things can be “beautiful from the inside, because of what they can do.” In the remarkable passage that follows, Sig’s father describes exactly how a gun works and shows his children how to shoot. In his words, it is indeed a beautiful thing, although, as Anna says, “what happen when the bullet hits something? Someone, I mean. That’s not beautiful. That’s terrible.”

Gradually, Sig comes up with a plan for using his father’s revolver to defeat Wolff, while at the same time honoring his mother’s pacifism. Teens who like the books of Gary Paulsen and Jack London will love “Revolver.” It’s a quick read, but the questions it raises—truth-telling versus deceit, faith versus action, violence versus pacifism—will stick with you for a long time.

Originally published in The News-Gazette, Sunday, June 5, 2011.

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