Today is Fat Tuesday, so it seems appropriate to feature a novel about the Louisiana bayou country. Even if it’s not about Mardi Gras, it is about pirate treasure among other things. I think that qualifies, don’t you?
The Marauders by Tom Cooper is a classic Southern novel in many ways, featuring a cast of highly eccentric characters caught up in a highly dramatic situation. I’m not sure why there’s so much high drama in the South but it does seem to attract it like mosquitoes and fireflies. Beyond that though, it’s the story of people just trying to live out their lives as they love to do despite interference and devastation caused by Mother Nature and irresponsible corporations. So, bottom line, it’s about the indomitable human spirit! And we’ve got a pay-it-forward copy for our giveaway, so be sure to enter!
The Louisiana bayou got a 1-2 punch in the early 21st century. First, Hurricane Katrina devastated the region in 2005 and then, just when folks had begun to finally get on with their lives again, the BP oil spill occurred in 2010. The Marauders is about the people of one small fishing village sitting on the edge of the swamps, people just trying to do what their families have always done – eke out a livelihood and enjoy their lives. If only they could be left the hell alone to do just that, they’d be happy as clams.
First we should meet Grimes. BP Oil has convinced this bayou=born employee to go back where he swore he’d never set foot again. Not only that but they’ve promised him a big promotion if he can just get the people from his hometown to sign on the dotted line, absolving BP of all future harm in return for a token reparations sum of money they can supposedly use to get a fresh start somewhere else. Some part deep inside of Grimes may feel a twinge about doing this but he pretty much hates what this place stands for and has convinced himself he could care less about its people. We should wish him much luck in his endeavors because he’s going to need it since Southerners in general, and coastal Southerners in particular, take stubbornness to a level unknown anywhere else on the planet.
“For a ten-grand settlement, a pittance compared with what British Petroleum might have to pay years down the line, the company would protect itself from further claims. Better to open the checkbook and make amends before the true extent of the oil damage surfaced years ahead.
‘Do what you do,’ Ingram, Grimes’ boss told him. ‘Show your all-American face. Smile your all-American smile. Commiserate. Apologize, promise, lie. As long as they take the money and sign on the dotted line.”
A lot of the people in this little parish are shrimpers and fishermen, working in the same business their families have worked in for generations. They all have stories about the big hauls and banner days of old when shrimpers used to pull in huge shrimp that brought top dollar. Those days were already gone for the most part even before the BP oil spill ruined the Gulf. Folks were already having a hard time making ends meet, especially after Katrina wiped everything out and they had to start over. After the oil spill, not only do they find so few shrimp that it barely pays the costs of going out but no one wants to buy them. Restaurants and consumers are terrified they’ll be poisoned by the contaminants in the water and the brokers can barely give the puny things away. How can anyone survive if they can’t fish?
Wes and his dad run one of those shrimp boats and Wes dreams of owning his own boat one day, if the shrimp ever come back and if he can get away from his tyrant of a dad. Wes has never really forgiven his dad for the decision to stay at the house instead of evacuating during Katrina…a decision that cost his mom her life. Of course his dad has never forgiven himself for that decision either but they don’t talk about that, in the same way they don’t talk about a lot of things. All they do is take the boat out and stay out in the Gulf until it becomes obvious there’s nothing left to catch or until they can’t stand up anymore. Then they take their shrimp to the broker, collect a truly pitiful sum for it, and go home. It’s a depressing way to live and Wes blames his dad – as if the oil spill was his fault somehow.
“These look a lot bigger than some I’ve been seeing,’ Montegut said. ‘You shoulda seen the last guy. Lucky Seven? Not a one bigger than my pinkie. And I got the hands of a geisha girl.’
Wes’ father huffed a polite laugh through his nose.
There was still some hope, Wes knew. The total weight of their haul didn’t matter as much as the size of the shrimp, how many it took to make a pound. If it took only thirty or thirty-five shrimp to make a pound, they were in business. If it took sixty or seventy then the trawling expedition was a bust.”
Lindquist is also a shrimper of sorts but he’s a very different kind of man. He’s burned a lot of bridges in his life and now the consequences of that have come home to roost. Still, he keeps plugging along because what else are ya’ gonna do? Did I mention that Lindquist only has one arm? How he lost the other one is quite a tale but it’s gone and it makes running a trawler quite difficult. He’s also in a lot of pain, so he self-medicates with a pill cocktail that could kill a horse, and adds alcoholic chasers as if tempting the medication gods to smite him on the spot. And then there’s his quest.
Lindquist is completely convinced that somewhere out in the Barataria bayou lies the rest of the famous pirate Jean Lafitte’s treasure. Everyone in the bayous knows Lafitte was a cunning privateer a.k.a. pirate who reportedly buried treasure on little marshy spits of land throughout the swamps. Everyone also knows most of it was never found and never may be; however, Lindquist intends to be the one to find every last bit of it. He’s done extensive research for someone zoned out a lot of the time and he has been hunting methodically for it for years. He’s found all kinds of trinkets, which he pawns as he needs money, but he can feel in his bones that he’s really close to finding the treasure. He’s determined to keep going, despite the pain and the pills and the runs of bad luck, until Lafitte’s treasure is his. That will show everyone, from his ex-wife to all his neighbors who bullied him as a kid and bully him now as an adult.
“Lindquist stood in the [bar] doorway, lips pressed in a thin pale line, some dark emotion building behind his face like a storm front. ‘Somebody took my arm,’ he said.
‘Took?’ Sully said.
‘Stole,’ Lindquist said. ‘Somebody stole my fuckin’ arm.’
A stymied silence fell over the room. For a moment the only sound the jukebox: a Merle Haggard song,…Finally, one of them, Dixon, began to laugh. Then Projean and LaGarde, the two other men at the table…
‘Screw you guys,’ Lindquist said.
The laughter stopped as quickly as a needle lifting off a record.
‘You joking?’ Dixon asked.
Lindquist joked a lot, so it was hard to tell.
‘Probably left it at home.’
‘Like hell,’ Lindquist said…
‘Why didn’t you just wear it?’ Dixon asked Lindquist.
‘You wear it in this heat.’ Lindquist said.
Twenty minutes later, the sheriff arrived. Villanova…The men stared, faces malefic in the red and blue bar-light…
‘And you’re sure you didn’t leave it home,’ Villanova said.
Lindquist narrowed his eyes, ‘You leave your arms at home?’”
The Trope Brothers are twins with a strong entrepreneurial bent and they grow some of the finest weed in the South. Of course, because it’s some of the finest and because it’s an amazingly lucrative business, they’re quite paranoid about people trying to find their little growing island hidden out in the bayou. And they will stop at nothing – literally nothing – to protect it. If they even begin to suspect someone might know about it, let’s say that person’s days aren’t just numbered – they’re done. Let’s also just say they’re not terribly thrilled to find Lindquist muddling about with a metal detector out in the Barataria, which they consider theirs by right.
And, last but not least, we should meet Cosgrove and Hanson are reluctant partners in crime with not so much a plan as a tendency toward serendipitous and spontaneous thievery. They are like a comic-relief version of a Greek chorus running throughout this tale and strewing chaos in their wake.
So how do all of these elements come together into this swampy Louisiana tale? Here’s the kicker – I’m not going to tell you. Let’s just say that it takes on elements of a Moliere comedy of errors at times and a Greek tragedy at others – and there are alligators involved. What would a swampy tale be without alligators?
It was easy to like Wes, who is in some ways the most normal character in the novel. His unresolved issues with his dad are huge but in many ways they reflect those of most college age kids. Lindquist I did not expect to like at all for a variety of reasons, so I was really surprised to find that he grew on me. If anyone represents the indomitable human spirit, it’s Lindquist – optimistic to the end despite overwhelming evidence. I’m not going to tell you how I felt about the others to avoid spoilers, although the twins? Let’s just say…*shiver*…
BTW: You may think the BP oil spill is long behind us. After all, we don’t hear anything about it on the news anymore. Not true, unfortunately. It’s going to be an issue for the Gulf Coast area for a long time to come in ways no one can predict. Click here to find out what happened to 6-10 million gallons of oil that BP couldn’t initially find.
Update (2/17/2015 @3:30pm EST): What were the odds that I’d say there’s been no media coverage and then find out coverage was imminent? LOL I just learned MSNBC is running a Special Report on the BP oil spill’s effects 5 years later. It’s airing every night this week at 5pm EST. The clip I saw looked very interesting. Hope you’ll check it out!
The Marauders is true to the small coastal fishing community mentality in the South, a highly eccentric mentality that has made Carl Hiaasen famous for his Everglades tales. Tom Cooper has faithfully captured both the people and the way of life that make these places so special, like places out of a time long gone by. Maybe it’s something in the water or they’ve all been out in the sun too long, or just maybe they’ve discovered a secret the rest of us have missed – a way of living in rhythm with their world. I cherish the eccentricity of these people and their cussed independence even when it makes me nuts – and it does on a regular basis. I had a blast reading The Marauders and I believe you will too so be sure to enter our giveaway!
Can’t wait to read it?
The Marauders was published on February 3, 2015, so it’s available from your favorite online bookseller below (or in the right column for iBooks). Just click the button/link below to get it to read now!
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One lucky reader will win an ARC (advance readers copy) of The Marauders by Tom Cooper!
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