This is the 4th Marcus Sedgwick book that I’ve read. He’s a prolific writer, having written over 15 novels for young adults, and more for younger readers.
What I like about his books, the ones I’ve read, is the sparseness of storytelling. By using the word ‘sparse’, I’m not saying that it is, in any way, lacking; he gets straight to the point yet manages to flesh out his characters enough so you still invest in them, and still care what happens.
The story is simple enough …
‘It’s 1910. In a cabin north of the Arctic Circle, in a place murderously cold and desolate, Sig Andersson is alone.
Except for the corpse of his father, frozen to death that morning when he fell though the ice on the lake. The cabin is silent, so silent, and then there’s a knock at the door.
It’s a stranger, and as his extraordinary story of gold dust and gold lust unwinds, Sig’s thoughts turn more and more to his father’s prized possession, a Colt revolver, hidden in the storeroom.
A revolver just waiting to be used …’
It begins with the compelling line – ‘Even the dead tell stories.’ Then switches between 1910, set in the cabin in Giron and told mainly from Sig’s point of view, and 1899, told from the point of view of his father, Einar, during the Alaskan gold rush in Nome. Personally, I enjoyed the story’s continuous shifting from the present to the past. The past informs us of the events in Einar’s life that will lead to the present and Sig’s mental and physical struggle to survive. What links them both is the menacing stranger.
There are few characters in this story, mainly Sig and Einar, and Sig’s older sister, Anna. And the stranger, Wolff. He brings with him an accusation that Einar has cheated him, and because he cannot get what he insists is his from a dead man, he is determined to get it from Einar’s children, despite them insisting that their father had told them nothing.
There is one other ‘character’ – Einar’s Colt revolver. We are introduced to it in loving detail, and then do not see it again until nearer the end of the story. Yet, hidden though it is, we are aware of its presence, through Sig’s unrelenting thoughts, almost willing it to his side …
‘Can you feel something, see something, smell it and touch it just by thinking about it?’
Sedgwick tells his story in a mere 217 pages. But the reader is, in no way, short-changed. As I said earlier, there is characterisation, there is plot, and there are descriptions … like the Arctic cold, and what life was like for people living in such conditions. And then there’s the detail of how a revolver works. It is not an ‘info dump’ that’s clumsily shoved at the reader, but told in just the way you’d expect to hear a father explain it to his children.
Sedgwick does not waste words yet still manages to convey the chilling tension that is crucial to the story; neither does he torture the plot by dragging it out needlessly.
Some have compared ‘Revolver’ to stories of wilderness survival, but I don’t think it is. The wilderness does feature, and it is about survival, but Sig’s fight to survive is not against the wilderness, but against a man.
I have more of Sedgwick's books on my TBR list; I like his style, and his descriptions …
‘The man’s face was like nothing Sig had ever seen … It was not a face stroked into creation by God’s loving hand, but battered into shape by the Devil’s hammer.’
My favourite passage has to be this:
‘… home is not something you find outside yourself; home is something you carry inside you, and it’s made from the memories of the people you love, and the people who have loved you.’