Brad Smith, and why he writes about retired athletes …

Brad Smith is a Canadian author from Dunnville, Ontario. I don’t know why his books haven’t made it onto every awards list in the country because he’s a beautiful writer; an author who can legitimately claim to be our own Elmore Leonard. He writes what he describes as Country Noir.

I’ve read three of his books in the Virgil Cain series. Virgil is a retired ball player who keeps getting pulled into dangerous situations when all he really wants to do is work on his farm and be left pretty much alone.

Red Means Run has the classic plotline of a man falsely accused of a crime who escapes from jail to prove his innocence. Crow’s Landing is an action thriller of the type Stephen Hunter might write, and it has a Russian character in it that I can only wish I’d invented.

And the new book, Shoot the Dog (my favourite) is a story of a movie production that comes to the country and draws Virgil in. I like it because one of Brad’s passions is old movies and he gets to share with us what he loves about them. All of the books have strong female supporting characters because as Brad says, “smart women are sexy.”

What I love about Virgil Cain is the same stuff I love about Brad Smith. He’s a really great guy with a dry, laconic wit. For example, our mutual friend, author Rob Pobi, relates this story about a breakup between Brad and a now ex-girlfriend. Rob asked Brad what happened, and Brad replied something like, “apparently one of us was an inconsiderate prick.”

In my Rogers TV interview with Brad, he explained why Virgil Cain is a former ball player. He got to thinking, he says, about athletes and how they often don’t have any particular skill except the one they turned out to excel at. Their professional lives are short, and in the older days (yes, we sounded like geezers), they didn’t make any real money either. What happened to them when their professional careers ended? Would anyone have ever heard of Muhammad Ali if he hadn’t discovered he was a boxer?

Brad says he himself came from an era where if you needed to fix something like a starter in your car, you did it yourself. It would never have occurred to him to take it to a shop, and Virgil Cain is the same way. He’s conscious of the value of money and how hard it is to make it. I realized in talking to Brad how self-sufficient we once were and what we’ve lost.

Read Brad’s books: you’ll love them. And watch out for my interview with him — he’s a gem. The show will air on May 22 on Rogers TV in Ottawa. I’m not sure of the time, but I’ll keep you posted.

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