John Larison's second novel Holding Lies is a difficult book to review. Another entry in the burgeoning "fly fishing murder mystery" niche, Larison's book centers on 59-year old Hank Hazelton, a classic fly fishing guide with a stereotypical fly fishing guide's background--broken marriages and broken relationships. When a hot shot young guide named Justin Morrell shows up dead on the river, it's up to Hazelton to try and puzzle out the mystery behind the murder.
There are really two ways to judge this book. One is as a general murder mystery, an awfully crowded field full of some very fine writers. The other is as a fly fishing murder mystery. Holding Lies fares better in the latter category.
Larison is a good writer and his strength is clearly writing about the river. His fictional town of Ipsyniho, Oregon serves as a way for him to express his passion: steelhead and their ecology. It is in this area where Larison's book shines. As a guide and river steward, he writes on these subjects with eloquence and expertise and manages to avoid the common crutch of lesser writers who concentrate too much on the details of fishing tackle and techniques. We do not seek fishing fiction for instruction on how to fish.
The book has several major themes, and one of the most prominent is old vs. new. The "new breed" of guide epitomized by Justin Morrell (who seems at least partly based on a well-known Pennsylvania fly fishing guide) is depicted as brash, cocky, and "in-your-face" as opposed to the "wise river sage" motif of the old breed. As an aside, I've known more than a few guides from the supposed "old breed" to know that much of this mythologizing is wishful thinking, and I know enough "younger" guides who would put their elders to shame when it came to understanding what was necessary to protect the fishing environment.
Mysteries in many ways are the hardest fictional works to review, because they tend to be a matter of personal preference. As this work is chock full of flashbacks, a particular style that I dislike, the book probably did not resonate as well with me as it has with a few other particular reviewers. But this does not mean Holding Lies is not a worthwhile reading experience. It most certainly is. But the mystery in many ways is secondary to the relationship building between Hazelton and his estranged daughter.
Overall, Holding Lies is a solid read and a second promising work from a young up-and-coming writer. Larison--a student of Ted Leeson's--shows tremendous promise and it will be exciting to chart his career in the coming years.
The book is published by the excellent SkyHorse Publishing and can be found by clicking here.
-- Dr. Todd