When the Wind Blows, by John Saul (1981)

When the Wind BlowsWhen the Wind Blows by John Saul
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"When the Wind Blows" is another selection from a giant bag of books a coworker gave me.

I should start my own imprint of mystery/thrillers: "Giant Bag of Coworker's Books, an imprint of HarperCollins."

In Amberton, Colorado, "When the Wind Blows" is a time when bad things happen. The Amber family founded the town (ergo, Amberton), based on a huge coal mine. The local Native Americans and Mexicans know there's something cursed about the mine: when the Wind blows, you can hear the cries of the water babies.

I capitalize Wind advisedly, for when the Wind starts blowing, weirdness ensues.

Anyway, the water babies are spirits of stillborn babies. The Native Americans interred their stillborns in a cave adjacent to the mine. Here, their spirits reside until it's time for them to be reborn. They don't like the Wind, so they cry.

Meanwhile, a widower mining engineer named Mr. Lyons comes to town to try and get the mine restarted. He dies, leaving behind his nine year-old daughter, Christie. In his will, he gives guardianship to the Amber family: 80-ish crone Edna, and 50-ish crackpot, Diane. Christie soon finds that Diane treats her like a toddler--insisting on giving her baths, and making her sleep in a crib. Also, whenever Christie cries, Diane starts beating the shit out of her.

And Diane is the more pleasant Amber to be around. Miss Edna, as she's known, is acid-tongued, and downright cruel; some Amberton townsfolk think she's a witch.

So every time the Wind blows, Diane goes a little crazy. She enters a sort of fugue state, and does things she can't remember. Like kill Christie's friends, her horse, and freak out a little that she can hear her baby crying in the distance.

"When the Wind Blows" goes back and forth between which Ms. Amber is crazier: the mother or the daughter. Really? Flip a coin.

Ultimately, we learn the reason Diane's so screwed up, and Edna's so mean. By the time we get this information, though, I had a really hard time caring. I just wanted a house to fall on them both and be done with it.

I couldn't help but feel bad for young Christie. She was an innocent, thrust into this bizarre pas de deux of whackjobs. The most interesting character, a Mexican woman named Esperanza, is deplorably underused. She has spiritual wisdom regarding the water babies and the sanctity of the mine, and she tells Christie the first day she moves into the Amber estate: "If you need me, come running, and I'll protect you." This could have set-up some interesting scenarios. Sadly, though, she seems to be an afterthought, like a character who'd be written into a picnic scene because none of the other characters brought macaroni salad. I felt like she had a lot more to offer, and it only made sense to me that Christie would escape to Esperanza's house the first chance she had. Edna made it clear she doesn't want Christie living there, and Diane's gone round the twist, so it would be easy enough to arrange. The good news is that a girl who apparently went to the same insufferable brat school as Nellie Olsen ends up dead at the bottom of the mineshaft.

It sounds horrible to relish a nine year-old girl's death--even a deplorable brat of a nine year-old--but I found a paucity of Big Moments in this book, so my conscience is clear.

Nor did I really find many of the characters interesting. Most of them were nice, but one-dimensional. The key relationship is the triad between Christie, Edna, and Diane. Christie was okay--plucky enough, with a slight ability to learn how not to get Diane smacking her or Edna yelling at her and swatting her with her cane. (I sort of stopped caring, though, when Christie didn't just get on one of the horses and ride like hell away to the Town Marshal's house, or to Esperanza's, places she could be safe).

Early in "When the Wind Blows," Diane comes off like an overly sheltered woman who's been cowed by her wicked mother. Then we sense that she's a little crazy too. Then we're led to believe that Edna was protecting Diane from herself. Then...

Hell, I quit caring about either of them around the halfway mark.

I remember reading a John Saul novel in the past, and really enjoying it. This particular effort, though, didn't work for me.

Except, of course, when the little brat falls down the mine shaft. If that's the highlight, I can't really recommend this to anyone except the author's fans. (note: "When the Wind Blows" has a decent enough Goodreads average, so maybe it's just me. (Then again, nah: it's not just me))

View all my reviews

About tom

B.A. in Literature, Minor in Film Theory and Criticism, thus meaning all I’m trained is to write blog posts here. Neptune is my favorite planet–it vents methane into the solar system like my brother does. I think Chicken McNuggets look like Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Indiana. There are times when I’m medicated, which is why I wrote about McNuggets. Buy some today and tell me I’m wrong! Anyway, Beyond that: mammal, Floridian, biped.Good Night, and Good Luck. Besos, tom
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