In life, multi-millionaire Everett Eastman was a ruthless industrialist, a bad husband, and an absentee father. In death, he becomes really aggravating. In a farewell gesture to his three scattered offspring, he bequeaths each one of them a tarnished jewel from his declining empire.

The slothful and duplicitous Ben receives the thriving auto parts plant that he already oversees. He immediately sets his sights on acquiring all three companies. Reality-challenged Ethan gains ownership of a failing distillery. Their sister, the independent Kick, reluctantly assumes the reins of Great North, a small publishing company and sometime music producer.

The trio learn from the will's executor—former NHL-er turned farmer Will Montgomery—that the departing Everett has seen fit to challenge them with a series of codicils. Ben is required to fulfill a major parts contract while Ethan has to get the whisky plant back in the black. And Kick—a chronically impoverished documentary film-maker with a project on the go in Wyoming—is dismayed to learn that she is required to produce a “back tax” album with a fading country music star. The singer, Jonah Peck, proves to be every bit as cantankerous and difficult as Everett Eastman himself. Which means that Kick is out of the frying pan.

And into the fire.

Reviews

 The Quill and Quire - Reviewed by Cassandra Drudi

The new novel from Brad Smith is the kind of fast-paced, plot-rich book that begs to be called, in all earnestness, a rollicking good time. In fact, it captures the excitement of its characters’ lives so well that it might inspire a reader to run out and make baleful country music or buy a dilapidated truck and drive to rural America.

Smith’s characters are eccentric, but not stereotypically so. Everett, the old man of the Eastman family, dies in the opening chapters, leaving his estate split up into pieces that his three children – all from different mothers – will inherit, but only after completing a twisted run of hurdles. Kick, Everett’s middle child and the novel’s protagonist, is a documentary filmmaker who drinks her rye cut with water and has no trouble identifying what she wants – be it a young cowboy musician in Nashville or the scoop on a rancher uprising in Wyoming – and doing what she needs to do to get it. Ethan, the youngest Eastman kid, is a depressive stoner who speaks almost exclusively in Bob Dylan lyrics while making quiet progress on a project of his own. Ben, the oldest Eastman and the novel’s would-be villain, is not as eccentric as he is typical: a bloated middle-aged man who spends more time on the links and with his mistress than he does at the office.

Branching off from the three Eastman children is a supporting cast of offbeat characters, including a tiny but scrappy Nashville music producer, a quiet, quick-thinking young businesswoman, a fake-breasted blonde-cum-fitness enthusiast, and a now-bankrupt country music legend.

Smith weaves together an absurd number of plotlines, each with its own unexpected twists and turns, so deftly that the novel’s dénouement comes as a believable resolution that is not the slightest bit trite. Of course, it does help that the straight-shooting Kick is as vocally skeptical of a pat ending as any reader would be.

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 Now Magazine - Reviewed by Susan G. Cole

Brad Smith's subject matter – cowboys, farmers and the women who love them - has never really been my thing. But because Smith's guys are fascinating and the women strong, often talking tougher than their male counterparts, his books give real pleasure.

In Big Man Coming Down The Road, rich man Everett Eastman bequeaths his sizable estate to his three kids, with one condition each.

Brainy indie doc filmmaker Kick has to make sure she finishes an album with the legendary Jason Peck for her newly acquired Great North record company; stoner Ethan, who speaks solely in Bob Dylan lyrics, must turnaround the family distillery; and baddie Ben has to complete a deal with Toyota for the Eastman auto parts firm.

Ben, for his part, wants to challenge the will and force his siblings to fail.

The secondary characters are a total treat: Suzi, the slutty recording exec who makes crappy country records; Will, the taciturn farmer and executor of the Eastman will; Johanna, the aging housekeeper who is, judging by the reaction of the men around her, hot hot hot.

I love that about Smith. He just will not bow to stereotypes – the women, no matter their age, give off a major whiff of sexuality, the guys may be laconic but they are not dim. Both the men and women act like heroes and villains.

He's got a real sense of place, too. Pear Orchard, the family farm, is lovingly evoked, field by field. If you want to know what Nashville's like without booking a flight, dive into this book.

The story just rocks. It's part potboiler, part love story and all heart. The Giller jury may not exactly be calling, but Smith is a Canadian original.

Put away your assumptions and enjoy the ride.

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 The Star - Reviewed by Philip Marchand

With the publication of his fifth novel, Big Man Coming Down the Road, Brad Smith continues to work his particular vein of literary ore. It is a vein he has virtually to himself in this country – there are no claim jumpers in sight. Call him a practitioner of a once very popular, now virtually defunct genre, the literary western, and you would not be far wrong.

True to the spirit of that genre, Smith creates male heroes who are small-town products, ruggedly handsome, celibate, working in physically demanding and marginal occupations – in this novel, good guy Will Montgomery is one of the last independent farmers in his neighbourhood – and possessed of a rock-hard commitment to their personal integrity. A very close parallel is to the characters of American Richard Russo. Like Smith, Russo delights in creating beleaguered small-town heroes under siege by much more powerful individuals, heroes whose chief defensive weapon is their biting repartee.

This kind of man's man is fairly rare in Canadian literature, where even hard-boiled private eyes tend to be in the ironic Benny Cooperman mode. (A curious contrast from a different literary quarter is the characteristic male hero of David Adams Richards, a protagonist who is equally salt of the earth, equally a victim of the petty jealousy and resentment of others, but who generally does not have the ability of the Smith and Russo hero to pull the fat out of the fire at the last moment.)

It's a powerful formula – man of integrity almost brought down by sleazy, lying, unscrupulous, unmanly men. In the classic western, the latter role is often typified by the figure of the railroad lawyer. In Smith's novels he can be a fraudulent dealer in Civil War memorabilia or, as in this novel, a greedy local businessman. The trick is to endow these villains with sufficient nastiness without verging into caricature, and to keep up the sensation of the hero fighting against overwhelming odds almost to the last page, when the reversal occurs and justice is meted out. It's a trick, needless to say, that requires considerable ingenuity in plotting.

In this novel, Smith varies the formula in one important respect. You can see it in the cover. Next to the title, Big Man Coming Down the Road, is a photo from the back of a young woman in jeans. This time around, his "Big Man" is female – one Kathleen "Kick" Eastman, a documentary filmmaker. Not to worry. She possesses almost every quality of Smith's male heroes – integrity, no awkward attachments to spouse and kids, outsider status – even a mean punch.

"At least she could still climb a fence like a country girl," Will Montgomery observes when he spots her for the first time in the novel, approaching him through an unplowed field. Fence-climbing ability, as all western aficionados will recognize, is very important. It means she's okay.

Kathleen is back in southwest Ontario after having been summoned from Wyoming, where she had been working on a documentary concerned with the evildoings of an oil company. The occasion is the death of her father, Everett, a wealthy inventor and industrialist, who had owned the land adjacent to Montgomery's.

Summoned to hear the reading of Everett's will are Kathleen and her two half-brothers, Ethan and Ben. Ethan is a marijuana-addled, would-be songwriter in British Columbia (need one say more?) who is accompanied by his girlfriend and keeper, Janey. Since Ethan only responds to conversation by quoting lines from Bob Dylan, the presence of Janey, a fairly rational person, is highly necessary as an interpreter. The second brother, Ben, who oversees the family's auto parts plant, is the greedy businessman.

The will itself is strange. Ben gets to keep the auto parts plant, Ethan is bequeathed the family distillery and Kathleen receives Great North, a company that produces audio books and children's CDs. Ethan and Kathleen must meet certain challenges before they assume full ownership of their respective businesses, however. Ethan must show he can actually run the distillery by making a profit. Kathleen must follow through on an eccentric deal her late father made with an aging country music star, Jonah Peck, to produce an album through the auspices of Great North.

Smith makes all this fairly credible and is left with the basis of a very serviceable plot. The diverse elements, and the different conflicts, allow him to switch from main plot to various sub-plots and then back again, keeping the narrative momentum humming.

The arrogance factor is multiplied. Janey and Ethan must deal with Jack Dutton, the smug, nasty head of the distillery, while Kathleen must deal with Blaine Steward, the smug, nasty head of Great North. And then there's the smug, nasty Ben constantly hovering in the background, stirring up mischief.

The Jonah Peck story is yet another major plot excursus, involving a smug, nasty country music producer named Susie Braddock and a wounded old cowboy hero (Jonah Peck). This opens another rich setting in which the action can unfold.

Along the way, Smith develops some interesting signifiers for his characters. His male good guys tend to be ruggedly sexy in appearance, while poor Ben and Blaine are definitely on the porky side, a reflection of their inability to curb their appetites. There is a particularly amusing scene in a restaurant where Ben sits down at Blaine Steward's table and drives the poor man to distraction by helping himself to his chicken wings.

The question of manliness becomes quite explicit in Ben's case. One of Jonah's horses, "a treacherous gelding ... content in his sloth and his devious ways," seems to be a symbolic stand-in for Ben – especially in his aspect as gelding. "You don't have a pussy, do you, Ben?" his mistress tauntingly asks him, as if there's some doubt in the matter.

Clothes also tell the story. Kathleen and Jonah, along with Will, who becomes Kathleen's ally over the course of the novel, dress plainly in jeans, workboots and plain white shirts. The apex of lonely cowboy hero fashion is attained by Jonah, when he shows up on one occasion dressed in a "dirty cowboy hat and a buckskin coat," toting a rifle wrapped in doeskin. (At least he does shoot the gun.)

Blaine wears a polo shirt and Dockers – loose clothing to fit his flabby physique. When we first see Ben, he is heading for the golf course wearing khaki shorts and a "windbreaker bearing the logo of some Scottish golf course." No range riding for him. The odious Susie Braddock is explicitly said to wear "ugly clothes," and at one point is shown leering at a handsome male singer, her breasts "straining the fabric of her satin shirt."

The story itself remains consistently compelling. It certainly kept me turning pages. Smith's handling of the repartee, as usual, is masterful. He adds just enough symbolic heft, as well, with his Nashville scenes. Susie is not only a first-class barracuda in her business dealings, and a smouldering harlot, but she stands for the triumph of marketing in the country music business over substance. The fictional Jonah, we are to understand, belongs to the Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan school of battered but soulful musicians, while Susie heralds a world of Shania Twains.

After finishing the novel, readers can also entertain themselves trying to answer one remaining question. Who is the "Big Man" of the title? Is it Kathleen? Is it Hank Williams triumphing from the grave over Shania Twain?

Or is it the opposite, the worldwide victory of marketing that not even Will Montgomery and Jonah Peck can ultimately defeat?

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 The Globe & Mail - Reviewed by T. F. Rigelhof

If you're a self-made man worth millions, what sorts of legacies do you leave your children if they haven't made much of themselves? Everett Eastman, the ruthless dynamo who electrifies and magnetizes the plotlines of Brad Smith's fourth novel, Big Man Coming Down the Road, is old, ill and estranged from his three grown children.

His daughter Kathleen (or Kick) is a documentary filmmaker who has maxed out her credit cards filming the effects of natural gas exploration and development on cattle ranching in Wyoming. Ethan, the younger of his two sons, is bipolar, a stoner musician who isn't interested in taking his meds and hasn't managed to interest anybody except his girlfriend in his songwriting or singing. Ben, the elder son and heir apparent, has allowed the family's major source of wealth - an auto-parts manufacturing plant in Southern Ontario - to run on its own momentum as he whiles away his days ignoring his wife, sidestepping his secretary, playing golf, fondling his implant-assisted mistress and daydreaming of what he'll do when he gets his hands on his share of the family fortune.

When Eastman dies alone on his farm, and his last will and testament is read to his children in the big farmhouse that was the home from which he was generally absent, they discover that he has paid a lot more attention to them in death than he ever did in life.

The three siblings knew that they didn't know their father very well, but suddenly discover that he was worth only half of the hundred million they thought he had. They also learn that most of his many remaining millions have been given away to Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children and other charities.

In a final effort to make them stand up for themselves, each child has been left one of the companies Eastman owned, but each bequest comes with a rat's nest of codicils. What's more, their father has named as executor his only remaining friend, Will Montgomery, the grown-up farm boy next door and a former NHL fourth-line winger who knows when to take off the gloves and when to take the hit and keep skating.

Brad Smith has been called the "country cousin" of Elmore Leonard, and has the same knack for interweaving twisting and turning storylines without entangling readers so tightly that they stop being fun to negotiate. And like Leonard, Smith creates characters who are quirky, colloquial and never quite as bright or alert as circumstances warrant.

When Kick is given Great North, a publisher of audiobooks, it's only on condition that she make a comeback album with a country singer who is as principled as Johnny Cash, as cantankerous about paying the taxman as Willie Nelson and as hard-living handsome as Kris Kristofferson, and full of misgivings about getting involved with the music that comes out of Nashville these days. Ethan gets the nearby McDougall Distillery, maker of Royal Highland Rye, but only if he makes a success of a hidebound business where the management sees no reason to change its ways. Ben, more interested in wresting both companies from his siblings and reclaiming the farm from the family housekeeper, is told he can keep the auto-parts company only if it fulfills a major contract with Toyota, which is looking to increase its U.S., not Canadian, content.

A carpenter and automobile restorer before turning to writing, Brad Smith is very good at getting the details right in his descriptions of how many kinds of people do many sorts of things -- handle tools, horses and machines, handle themselves in unusual circumstances, make music, make love, make fools of themselves -- in different locales; the Nashville scenes are particularly well-observed.

But what's truly distinctive about Big Man Coming Down the Road is the way Smith documents, with sly good humour, the not-so-graceful ways in which conflicting views on the environment, global capitalism and female-male relationships get played out at ground level in the Ontario heartland. This world view -- over a couple of double-doubles at the Tim Hortons in the local mall, or a couple of beers at a backyard barbecue -- has been under-represented in mainstream Canadian fiction since the death of Matt Cohen, and it's splendid to have it here with both the geniality and bite it deserves. As a bonus for Bob Dylan fans, Ethan says and does little, but when he speaks or acts, it's with fragments of Dylan's lyrics on his lips.

In less than a decade, Brad Smith has developed a loyal and enthusiastic following, especially among fellow writers. His ability to create down-to-earth characters who inhabit milieus that feel as authentic as Leonard's or Dennis Lehane's has also attracted the interest of filmmakers, who have bought rights to all three of his previous novels: All Hat (starring Water's Lisa Ray ) is in post-production; Busted Flush is in development with the producers of Babel; and One-Eyed Jacks is with the makers of M. Butterfly. If Kris Kristofferson has a yen to make another film, Big Man Coming Down the Road is all the vehicle he needs.

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 National Post - Reviewed by Robert Wiersema

Sometimes events don't unfold quite as one might have planned. Take the three adult Eastman siblings: After their father, multimillionaire industrialist Everett Eastman, dies, they gather at their childhood home for the reading of the will. They're expecting to share in his riches, only to find, to their considerable disappointment, that in the old man's waning years he donated most of his assets to such worthy causes as a summer camp in British Columbia for children with cancer. All that's left is the house, property and three companies, one for each sibling.

Eldest brother Ben, a hard drinking, corpulent and corrupt adulterer, gets the successful auto-parts business he's been managing for most of his adult life. Documentary filmmaker Kathleen (better known as Kick) takes over Great North, which produces audio books and is supposed to be releasing a new album by country legend Jonah Peck, the proceeds of which will help pay down his outstanding debt to the IRS. And Ethan, the youngest Eastman, a songwriter who speaks only in Bob Dylan lyrics, is given a distillery on the decline. These legacies do not come without conditions, however: The siblings must meet stringent terms set out in the will to demonstrate their involvement and acumen within one year, or they'll end up with nothing.

As Kick says, "Everett's trying to will us responsibility. He sure as hell never passed it along genetically. It's not gonna work, of course."

How the three come to terms with their legacies, and each other, is the set-up for Big Man Coming Down the Road, the new novel by Dunnville, Ont., writer Brad Smith. The payoff is a rollicking, ramshackle read that's bold and oversized, funny and oddly touching but free of cheap sentimentality.

Smith writes with a confidence bordering on cocky, a sureness of tone that serves to unify his narrative and the more than half a dozen major characters, in a story that ranges from a farm in southwestern Ontario to the bars and recording studios of Memphis. He cannily controls the shifts in storyline, building enough tension that each is compelling in its own right, from Ben's devious machinations to gain control of all three companies, to Kick's struggles to record Jonah Peck's new record, to Ethan and his relationship with his girlfriend, Janey, who is far sharper than she appears. Smith's skill with characterization is essential to the success of the novel. Drawn with broad strokes at first, they grow to reveal surprising nuances and depths. Even supporting characters such as Will, a former NHLer turned farmer next door (also Everett's executor); Raney, the old man's cynical, sharp tongued lawyer; and Johanna, his longtime housekeeper, are rendered with depth and insight. The dialogue is punchy throughout, and the interaction between the characters is mined for both laughter and drama (often at the same time).

Much of Big Man Coming Down the Road plays out with a healthy (if occasionally obvious) good humour and an absence of pathos. Though the stakes are high, the tone is light, and it is clear we are meant to be entertained. And entertained we are. CanLit could use more writers like Brad Smith.

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 Montreal Gazette - Reviewed by Ami Sands Brodoff

Multi-millionaire Everett Eastman is mad, bad and dangerous to know. A ruthless businessman, philandering husband and absentee father, he exterminates snapping turtles in his creek just for something to do. When he goes the way of all flesh, one expects his family to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

No such luck in Big Man Coming Down the Road, Brad Smith’s rollicking new novel.

Eastman won’t give his offspring any peace, even from the grave. For starters, his last will and testament has "more twists and turns than a mountain road." Eastman has a bit of fun with his three children, leaving them each a portion of his declining empire, but challenging them with a series of codicils to his will. The legacies remain in trust for a year. Before Eastman’s children own anything, they have to fulfill his conditions. What he really bequeaths them is a sense of responsibility, one that Eastman never managed to impart during his lifetime.

Eldest son Ben receives Eastman Technologies, the auto parts plant that he already supervises – supposedly. The problem is that Ben, who perfects being lazy and obnoxious to an art form and looks "like a man in a laxative commercial," spends most of his time on the golf course or with his buxom mistress. Tough-talking daughter Kick, a documentary filmmaker, must assume management of Great North Audiobooks, a small publishing company and occasional music producer. Dreamy Ethan, a struggling musician who speaks in Bob Dylan lyrics, gains ownership of the failing McDougall Distillery, maker of Royal Highland Rye.

What author Smith says about Kick easily applies to her two brothers: "Growing up in that particularly dysfunctional family had pretty much guaranteed that she would either become her own person or a head case." Eastman’s will promises to put this question to the test: a ripe set-up for family madness and human comedy.

But here’s the catch that kicks everything up a notch: Ben must fulfill a major parts contract, Kick is required to produce an album with a fading country music star and Ethan has got to get the whiskey plant back into the black.

Will Montgomery, a former NHL-er, who’d "rather be home, castrating bull calves," is Eastman’s reluctant executor and a memorable character.

Clearly, Ben, Kick and Ethan are going to have a tough time of it. "What do they say – it takes a village? We had quite the village here," points out Johanna, Eastman’s former housekeeper and surrogate mom to his kids. "With the children and the odd wife. Notice I said odd. And Everett himself from time to time."

As Eastman’s three grown children struggle to fulfill the conditions laid out in their father’s will, readers are taken on a pretty wild ride. On the way, we get an insider’s view of the country music business, the auto-parts industry and a whiskey distillery, an unexpected – often hilarious – bonus. Smith has a knack for selecting just the right details to bring his scenes to life. As music producer Susie Braddock explains to Kick, "You’re as green as alfalfa…We lay all the tracks down and then those two techno-geeks you saw in there mix it all together like a big old pot of jambalaya."

For those who relish a fast-paced tale, spiced with down-home humour about the foibles of family, Smith’s novel provides a diverting read. His characters are kooky and colourful without being caricatures. The wise-cracking dialogue sings, and Smith can spin a page-turning plot.

However, from time to time, the one-liners wear thin and the plot reels out a bit too fast. One craves those quiet, reflective passages that enable both readers and characters to breathe. To his credit, Smith slows down occasionally, lending his riotous tale more depth.

This madcap adventure proves that a novel can be both a fun, fast read and qualify as a good book. Smith’s three prior novels are all in various stages of film development. One suspects that Big Man will travel down the same road. Readers can look forward to enjoying the story a second time around on the screen.

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 Chronicle Herald - Reviewed by Mary Jo Anderson

The leading characters found in Brad Smith’s novels are moral outriders. They are anti-heroes — more in the tradition of Alan Ladd in Shane than Bruce Willis in Die Hard — who, at the beginning of each novel, are returning from exile to their home turf. And, in the case of Smith’s latest book, included among these anti-heroes is a woman.

Smith has written four recent novels, each of which delivers explosive action, dizzyingly good dialogue, intricate and multiple plots, and enough laughs to leave you with a stomach ache. Great talk, great plot, and great, hot action is topped with social satire as Smith roasts many of our contemporary bete noirs, including the media, corporation farming, and lawyers, to name a few targets.

Smith’s dialogue is as tight as the jeans on Dwight Yokum – certainly as entertaining and often just as sexy. Smith writes economical, taut, muscular stories that deliver a wallop. There’s not a wasted word anywhere and yet the books are nuanced, rich in detail, and the characters are as true as the moral plumb line each protagonist draws.

All Hat, (Penguin Books, $10.99) was originally published in 2003, but the book should see a whole new audience of readers since the novel has been made into a film, with Smith as the screenwriter. It will debut this fall at the Toronto Film Festival.

The book begins with Ray Dokes, our outrider hero, just getting out of jail after a two-year stint. In the horseracing world, an outrider is person who rides alongside the racehorses to stop them from misbehaving or getting loose.

Dokes is one of Smith’s anti-heroes who ride shotgun on the conmen, shysters, and small-time crooks found in these stories.

Dokes has an old friend, Pete, and old flame, Etta, and an old foe, Sonny. But there is nothing old or cold about this novel. All Hat is hot, fast and as unpredictable as a horse race.

Not surprisingly, a horse race is at the centre of the story. Ray Dokes should be lying low since he is on parole for beating up Sonny, the spoiled and stupid son of a rich businessman, who owns winning thoroughbreds.

Dokes goes to live with an old friend named Pete Culpepper. Pete is a cowboy who dreams of having success with his one thoroughbred.But Dokes admits he is likely to get into trouble now he is out of jail.

"The difference between being inside and being out was that on the inside, a man always had a plan. And that was to get out. Being out robbed him of that objective, and it was in looking for a new objective that he usually got himself in trouble."

Sonny employs two kids to run interference and do errands for him. Dean has a big mouth, an even bigger ego, but very little smarts. Paulie, younger and much abused, is a natural with animals and gets into trouble by association rather than intent. We learn the meaning of the title when Pete describes Dean as "All hat, no cattle," just about the worst insult a cowboy can throw. Sonny and Dean are ‘All Hat, all prattle’ as each tries to plot a get-rich-scheme.

Dokes outsmarts everyone. It is not until page 233 that Smith reveals what really happened between Sonny and Ray Dokes. This is a very gutsy and smart move on Smith’s part; not many authors could pull it off.

Big Man Coming Down the Road (Penguin $25) is Smith’s newest, wisecracking morality play. This time it’s all in the family with Ben, the brother of Kick and Ethan, as the duplicitous, immoral, conman.

The siblings of the Eastman family are shocked to learn upon their father’s death, that billionaire Everett Eastman has given all his money away to various charities. And equally shocking is more news revealed in their father’s will. He bequeaths one of his moribund businesses to daughter Kick, and another to his spacey son Ethan — which they will lose if they do not turn a profit within a year.

Ben, already in charge of one business, which is making money, wants to finagle his way to owning the companies left to Kick and Ethan.

Smith creates a fast-paced plot that ricochets through the world of country music, skewering more topics and issues than you could hope. Smith even has a character quote musician Steve Earle’s harsh but hilarious opinion of Shania Twain as "the highest paid lap dancer in Nashville."

One-Eyed Jacks (Penguin $10.99) like all Smith’s novels, is a must read. Tommy Cochrane is a boxer with one too many concussions. He and his buddy, and sparring partner, T-Bone Pike, head to Canada where Tommy was raised.

Tommy arrives at his grandparents’ homestead to discover his grandfather died just a few months back and now his rigorously religious brother-in-law, Pete Vedder, holds the deed to the farm.

When Tommy and T-Bone go to Vedder’s house to see Peg, Tommy’s sister, Pete asks to speak to Tommy privately. "I won’t have that coloured sleeping in this house," Pete says of T-Bone.

"You’re a fine Christian man …," Tommy replies.

Smith takes direct aim at racism in several of the novels. He pulls no punches in his portrayal of the ugliness and stupidity of bigotry. Tommy admits he doesn’t "want to lose the farm," and he must come up with a large sum of money quickly.

To box would be a death sentence, as his doctor has advised Tommy that another blow to his head is too dangerous. But it is the only way Tommy can think to raise cash quickly so they head to Toronto to raise $5,000.

Smith brilliantly evokes the sleazy bars, the poker games and the atmosphere of Toronto streets.

Busted Flush (Penguin $10.99) finds protagonist Dock Bass kicking walls on the job. Bass, a real estate agent, gets fired when he outs his boss for skimping on the insulation in newly built houses.

The unemployment suits Bass just fine, but to his malcontent wife it is reason to rail against Bass and his lack of success. Relief is spelled "inheritance" as Bass receives news that a property near Gettysburg, Penn., has been left to him.

Bass closes the door on his marriage (though his wife doesn’t know it yet) and hits the road. The house Bass inherits holds an unexpected treasure and Bass becomes the focus of much unwanted attention. The media and Civil War memorabilia collectors hound Bass.

He ends up in jail, in a fight for possession of his newly acquired property, and the enemy of unsavory and unscrupulous characters from all levels of society. The novel is bursting with history and humour.

It is not just what Smith’s novels are about — that’s always fascinating — it’s also how he tells the stories.

In one scene in Busted Flush, media star Amy Morris attends a town meeting where individual farmers face off against Superior Swine, a huge pig-farming conglomerate.

"Expert after expert approached the podium in the local high school auditorium and proceeded to bat around like badminton birds words such as containment and fail-safe and the new catch-all, nutrient management. Only when the microphone was turned over to the public, though, did the nutrient really hit the fan."

Brad Smith seems to love nothing better than being a nutrient-disturber.

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