Craig Moodie,
Salt Luck
(Waterfront, 2004)

The luck of Cape Cod fishermen is often no luck at all. With their industry on the decline and their livelihood threatened by factory ships and fishing conglomerates, it's tough for the solo fisherman to make a decent living. Fighting the weather and wild northern seas, searching endlessly for depleted schools that have been plundered from the ocean, scraping together funds for the next voyage and battling loneliness and the longing for those left back on shore, it's a wonder fishermen continue to do what they do.

Just imagine how one might react if he found a an unexpected windfall from questionable sources.

Ed Bell is cash-desperate enough to hire his boat out to two shady men without much question; after all, it's just a quick night's trip through the offshore rips to make a pickup at sea for an easy thousand bucks, no questions asked. But a sudden storm blows up and the easy job turns tragic -- and Ed is left with two barrels full of money, and more questions than cash.

For Ed, whose father's failing health is draining him at one end while financial and domestic issues at home drain him at the other, the money is a blessing -- if only he knew who might come looking for it later. Red skies one morning are a clear indication that it won't be smooth sailing for some time ... and rough weather is coming from unexpected quarters.

Salt Luck is a short novel by Craig Moodie, who proved in his short-story collection, A Sailor's Valentine, that he knew his way around a literary fishing boat 10 years before. The story has both action and adventure, true, but more of the story is focused on the daily thoughts and deeds of a lifelong fisherman, the details of a short fishing voyage and the impressions of the seaman's life from one who knows it well. Ed Bell is a strong character, for all that he is beset by doubts, second thoughts and uncertain courses at every turn. An even stronger, more touching character is Ed's father, a proud fisherman who won't go quietly into retirement despite the stroke that has felled him.

I started this book with optimism, having enjoyed Moodie's work in the past, which turned quickly to annoyance at the small font size employed by Moodie's publisher. But just a few pages in, that minor irritant was forgotten as I was absorbed into life on the Cape.

Moodie has a fisherman's voice in his writing, and it's hard not to fall under the spell of biting wind and rain, a tossing deck, the disappointment of an empty hook and the taste of Salt Luck on your lips.

by Tom Knapp
21 October 2006

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