Book Review: ‘Chasers’

Special to The Recorder

“Chasers” by Laurence Michie (Randolph Books, 344 pages, $15.95)

“Chasers” is set in an unspecified time in the future in which the world has been ravaged by war and economic calamity. An oddly retrograde Russian Empire holds sway over much of the globe.

The novel’s protagonist is a Russian military captain, Aleksandr Brukov. Stationed in the former United States, he is attacked in an area known as the Hamp (our own Northampton) by a group of religious fanatics called Jonnies.

Brukov is saved by Jason Pembroke, a hardy hilltown dweller, and taken home to Jason’s small, self-reliant community. Brukov has always looked down at Chasers, as the former Americans are now called, believing that Russians are a superior class and culture.

As he heals from his injuries, he grows to respect Jason, Jason’s sister Felicity and the Chasers about them. Not terribly talkative or philosophical as a rule, the Chasers Brukov meets are nonetheless competent, trustworthy and brave.

Brukov formulates a plan to train the hilltown dwellers to help the Russians defeat the Jonnies — and achieve a degree of independence and security for themselves. Both the Chasers and the Russians end up surprising him, however.

“Chasers” is gripping. Despite its futuristic and dystopian setting, it feels oddly real to the reader.

Part of the realism stems from author Laurence Michie’s choice to thrust the reader into the action without much explanation. As Brukov and Jason get to know each other, and each learns the ways of the other’s culture, the reader tags along for the ride.

Another source of the book’s realism, at least for those of us living in the Pioneer Valley, is that it is set in our area. Brukov’s astonishment at the laconic efficiency and independence of hilltown residents mirrors that of many city dwellers who move to towns like Ash (the name of Ashfield in the book’s future).

In fact, Michie admits in a blurb on the book’s back cover that he was once such a city dweller. Now residents of Northampton, he and his wife Virginia moved to western Franklin County in 1980 and spent more than a decade in the hilltowns.

They worked in Shelburne Falls as the owners and publishers of what is now the “Shelburne Falls & West County Independent.”

Michie explains in an afterward to the book that he wrote it more than 30 years ago. He adds that his writing was heavily influenced by thinkers such as British historian Arnold Toynbee and Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

One need not have read these other authors to enjoy “Chasers,” however. Laurence Michie has taken their ideas and created a rich fictional world that is fascinating, colorful and entirely original.

Reading

Laurence Michie will read from “Chasers” at Boswell’s Books in Shelburne Falls on Thursday, April 24, at 6:30 p.m. The book is available for purchase at Boswell’s, at Amazon.com, and at the World Eye Bookshop.

Tinky Weisblat is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” (www.merrylion.com) and “Pulling Taffy” (www.pullingtaffy.com). She is always looking for new books from Franklin County-related authors to review for this paper. If you have a book suggestion, email her at Tinky@merrylion.com.

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