McLarty, Ron. Traveller

Sphere, $32.95

The “traveller” of this book’s title is not a person: it’s a bullet.

Bartender and off-off-Broadway actor Jono Riley receives word that his childhood girlfriend, Marie, has died unexpectedly: the victim of a bullet, lodged in her shoulder four decades earlier, which travels through her body to her heart.

Jono interrupts his life inManhattan, leaving his firefighter girlfriend, an unpopular one-man show, and the bar he manages, to revisit hisRhode Island past.

Jono catches up on old memories and friends, and discovers that Marie’s shooting was not a random event. In chapters alternating between Jono’s nostalgic memories and the present day, a coming-of-age mystery with a stout sense of place unfolds. Teenage thugs grow to become adult thugs. Our hero’s romantic life path is charted. Tragedies, large and small, happen.

A thriller begun as a tale of four friends growing through adolescence, Traveller is more “Stand and Deliver” than “Stand by Me”. And although Traveller delivers increasing levels of remembered violence, this is primarily a crime novel without the gore. In fact, despite the violence, bashings, and corpses, the book drips sweet sentiment. Some characters may be delivered directly from central casting alongside a telemovie plot, but Jono is a flawed honey and the reader is drawn totally into his memories of 1960s East Providence. Other bit players are equally charming, and McLarty is at his dry best when writing about the theatre.

Overall, a readable crowdpleaser from the author of The Memory of Running, a man who describes himself as a “writer who acts”.