Afterthoughts: All That I Have by Castle Freeman

All That I Have by Castle Freeman

In a Nutshell: Although All That I Have won’t win any prizes for being an all-out action-packed thrillfest any time soon, it stands out as being a very well written crime thriller which comes with delicious literary undertones and a delightful infusion of ‘small town’ philosophy. Very highly recommended!

Well, All That I Have (Duckworth) is done ‘n’ dusted, and so it’s time to offer up my afterthoughts on what was my first foray into the fictional world of Vermont author Castle Freeman. I’ve already said a few things about the book and its author in my forethoughts post – so I’ll respectfully point you to that – but for the benefit of those who like to have everything together, here’s a brief summary of what All That I Have is about:

Set in present day Vermont, Lucian Wing is the County Sheriff in charge of seventeen local towns. Being about as ‘old school’ at sheriffing as old school at sheriffing can get, Wing refuses to wear a uniform, drive a law enforcement vehicle, or even carry a gun. But then again Wing has no reason to strut around the county like a heavily-armed “super cop”. His area of jurisdiction is sleepier than a tortoise on Valium, and he’s managed to do his job perfectly well up until this point, without any need for latest and greatest weaponry and gadgets that law enforcement has to offer.

Enter into this almost idyllic scene then, a gang of burly Russians who own a significant property on one of the local hillsides. It’s been broken into, something has been taken, and the Russians want it back. As one can imagine they aren’t overly happy with entrusting recovery of their property to local law enforcement, and so the Russians decide to take matters into their own hands.

So poor old Sheriff Wing has got his work cut out for once, and his situation isn’t helped much by the fact that he also has to deal with ongoing problems in his marriage, and an overly ambitious deputy who’s snapping at his heels.

A thinking man’s thriller
So that’s the basics of All That I Have, but what did I really think of it? Well I’ve got to say that I really enjoyed it. Sheriff Wing is without a doubt the undisputed star of the show. Philosophical and wise, Wing has a ‘slowly, slowly catchy monkey’ kind of approach in his role as sheriff; a mindset which he adopted from the guru-like Ripley Wingate, Wing’s predecessor. In one of his many ‘asides’ Wing explains that one of the key ‘rules’ that Wingate taught him was to ‘hold back and let things develop’, and this is the philosophy that steers the storyline for All That I Have throughout, making this novel more of a thinking man’s thriller than a Die Hard-fest, with level-headed Sheriff Wing doing most the thinking.

This is not to say that All That I Have is a slow-moving lumbering kind of read, because it certainly isn’t that. But neither is it an action-packed, all-guns-blazing, vein-popping kind of an affair either. So it’s probably best to label it somewhere in between, where periods of apparent inaction in the storyline are balanced with episodes of lively encounter; which in my mind is the perfect mix.

‘Small town’ philosophy
As slower moving as the storyline is it certainly kept me turning the pages. Interspersed throughout his ‘taking care of the Russian problem’ are flashbacks, philosophical asides and domestic episodes from Sheriff Wing, and these do nothing but make the novel all the more interesting. And I’m delighted to find that Freeman has completely infused his inherent knowledge of ‘small town living’ into the novel, giving a flavourful impression of what it’s like to live in rural Vermont (minus the Russian Mafia of course). I said in my forethoughts that I hoped Freeman would inject a certain ‘small town’ philosophy into this novel, and I’m happy to say that he doesn’t disappoint.

An array of good characters
Sheriff Wing may be the best and most prominent character in this novel, but I also found a number of others who have been so well crafted by Freeman that they deserve mention. There’s Wing’s overly-anxious deputy, the aptly named Lyle Keen, who is very much a thorn in Wing’s side. There’s local villain — bad boy to the police, super stud to the girls – Sean ‘Superboy’ Duke who Wing, to his detriment, has a bit of a soft spot for. He’s a character who’s not around all that often, but there is a real omnipresence about him (you’ll see what I mean when you read it) . There’s also Trooper Timberlake, who also doesn’t appear all that often in the story, but he juxtaposes Deputy Keen’s character beautifully.

If I have one tiny criticism then I would have liked to have seen the Russians in All That I Have being a bit better developed. Sure, there are specific individuals among them – identified when Wing makes their acquaintance – but for me they’re not memorable enough to stand out on their own (with the exception of perhaps one), which kind of makes them blend back into a collective, and simply be known as ‘The Russians’.

Putting that small personal niggle aside, I don’t want it to put anyone off reading All That I Have, because ultimately this is one super little novel. I left reading it with a gentle chuckle and a warm smile, which I think pretty much sums up my reading experience of All That I Have. Go buy it. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Duckworth Publishers | 21st January 2009 | £7.99 | PAPERBACK | 165 PP | ISBN: 9780715639023

:: What others have said about All That I Have::

  • “A beautifully written, understated gem of a book.”Simon A, Bookgeeks
About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).


  1. stujallen (Twitter: stujallen)

    sounds good rob ,i d would have pick this up to have a look in a bookshop any way on its cover alone

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

      It’s way better than I thought it was going to be Stu. In fact based on this one I’m going to keep an eye out for his other novels. And I agree, the front cover is understated but rather eye catching.

  2. Dear Rob,

    I read your review of Castle Freeman book All That I Have and feel that you did a great job. In my judgment, your review was balanced, fair and well-thought out. You have demonstrated a justified objectivity, giving a reader a clear impression of what to expect from the novel. I will be following your other reviews with interest.