This month demonstrates that murder is just as active and devious in small town Canada as it is in our large urban crime cities. Prince Edward County and the Gulf of St. Lawrence seem especially attractive this month along with the various and interesting partnership dynamics between police partners, cops and spouses, cops and buddies. Humour appears to be an interesting ingredient this month.
SHROUD OF ROSES
By Gloria Ferris
A gentle country side wakes up to murder discovered in a closed down, left to rot, high school: a decomposed body in a school locker last used years before when the final graduating class had its fling.
Author Gloria Ferris has already charmed us with her frustrating and hormonally charged duo of Lockport’s chief of police, Neil Redfern and his on again, off again relationship with Bliss Moonbeam Cornwall. The name alone tickles the imagination.
The first body delivers a second and clearly Chief Redfern has some sort of crime wave in his small town. But it’s the adroit, blunt and down-right funny antics of his friend, lover and reluctant partner, Moonbeam that sends him for cover. She interferes, stirs the pot, sends the burghers of the town screaming for cover and triggers solutions.
This is a series made for entertainment. It’s edgy and more truthful than we might want to admit. The writing is sharp: the dialogue sets the pace which means trying to stay a page or so ahead of Ms. Cornwall. Shroud of Roses is about crime based on fear and revenge, storytelling that clearly states that human relationships cause pain, grim reality and sparks. As a hint to Dundurn, I’m ready for another Cornwall and Redfern dance of friction and fun.
THE PITY OF THE WINDS
By Robin Timmerman
Trafford Publishing $25.00
The Pity of the Winds is convincing tale of a small community coming to terms with the undercurrents of change. New jobs, money, self-serving characters, all inflicted on a rural atmosphere in the name of progress…whether they want it or not.
An ideal opportunity for a young police officer in a small town cop shop arriving with a new wife desperately hoping for a new beginning.
What better way to bring change than to answer the energy call. An obscure, windy corner is the testing ground for large wind mills that will produce power for the powerful. Local nature lovers and real estate hounds set up a battle that turns sour and leads to murder.
The conflict of an area is carefully drawn: young people leaving, the faithful desperately gripping the past. The characters and dialogue make the local atmosphere zing with energy and pain. The place may be hurting but it’s the people that strike the blows, defend the past and try the balance the two.
Author Robin Timmerman tells this story with compassion, astute word pictures of the beauty and its beastly side. It’s a business that spells death, hope and revolution. I sketch and paint in Prince Edward County and author Timmerman does it justice. The Pity of the Winds is a strong debut. I’m reading her second novel, Season of Deceit and the author’s talent holds true: signs of a strong series with lots of room to grow.
Update: just finished Season of Deceit and the signs of a strong series just got stronger.
JOURNEY OF A THOUSAND STEPS
By Madona Skaff-Koren
Renaissance Press $19.88
The title and front cover are teasers of a dynamite debut novel written with passion and reality about a soul trapped within her body and determined to survive and thrive. The setting and description of the amateur sleuth, Naya are edgy with dialogue that keeps the action moving and the tension mounting.
Multiple sclerosis alters life. It creates a trap for Naya and her contact to the outside world is reduced to her computer. A life-line friend disappears. The police dismiss Naya’s concerns so she follows her own convoluted trail that places her life in danger.
What sets Journey of a Thousand Steps apart is the practical sense of awareness of the circumstances of a restricted life told with energy that permeates the dialogue, the action and the conclusion. There is no “why me” in this story, and the front cover illustrates that more than a few of those thousand steps are falls which require guts and focus to survive. Naya takes this journey and author, Skaff-Koren reveals the path in an enlightening and humorous way.
DEAD, WITHOUT A STONE TO TELL IT
By Jen J. Danna with Ann Vanderlaan
Five Star $27.95
An auspicious debut, doubly so when two writers produce a story with such a seamless style: I couldn’t tell where Danna left off and Vanderlaan began. They further jumped the hurdle of announcing their intention to write a series. The hurdle for a first novel is sufficient challenge: plot, setting, avoiding the traps of first novel urgency, characters and dialogue wrapped into a story that keeps the reader turning the pages.
The occasional overdose of adjectives and the odd first novel telling us a bit too much is easily forgotten. If you want to be in on the ground floor of a startlingly dynamic point of view in a forensic based series, then Dead, Without A Stone To Tell It is a must read.
I admit to being a reluctant fan of forensic mystery stories: sometimes the science and the speedy results reach the conclusion with the collateral damage being the story. Not here. The relentless energy, both raw and compassionate, bridge the scientific gap of detachment and pathos. There is sudden action that stirs the guts, a real feel that puts the reader right in the midst of the characters, their jobs and their personal lives.
A quick summary with the addendum, "read this debut": one human bone is found on a strip of backwater coastline near Boston Mass. which leads to multiple bodies buried one on top of another and a serial killer seeks revenge on the cop, Trooper Leigh Abbott and forensic anthropologist Matt Lowell who are out to stop the killing. And about 300 pages later I put down one of the best forensic mystery sub-genre pieces I’ve read in a while.
By Matt Lennox
Harper Collins $22.99
A different sort of almost anti-hero: Ashley Rosco, small town bouncer, frustrated body-builder, occasional muscle man for a small-time drug dealer. Add Ashley’s Achilles heel…his cousin Chastity.
Stir the pot…literally in some cases. Chastity disappears. Best friend, Darren and his father lead Ashley down twisted, self-serving and increasingly dangerous roads which become more twisted and evil at each turn.
The tension is the grabber in Knucklehead. It feels like a circle growing smaller and tighter, fueled by testosterone, passion, bravado and loyalty. The explosion clock is ticking away page after page. For a novel grounded in deceit, drugs and punishment, the story is eloquently told and touched with both darkness and detailed compassion. A character driven novel that is a winner.
SING A WORRIED SONG
By William Deverell
ECW Press $24.95
It always seems the right moment to kick back, glass of Shiraz to hand and read another story featuring Arthur Beauchamp Q.C. Defence Council. Talented author William Deverell always delivers a sharp-witted story.
Under oath, I must testify to being a fan of Beauchamp’s legal and romantic antics. If cross-examined as to why…it’s Deverell’s quirky and captivating use of words, his setting descriptions that place you right at the heart of the action, his witty dialogue juiced up with zingers both funny and caustic.
Part one is a flash back to Arthur’s one and only shot at prosecution. The result is a fast moving, acid-tinged chess style courtroom drama that might be described as vintage Deverell. The later parts of Sing a Worried Song take us to the back road, pot aroma life of Garibaldi Island on the shores of the Salish Sea. Perhaps a cozy-ish moment from the Deverell pen? Poor Arthur nearly out portrayed by a gang of past colleagues short of funds, mechanics who struggle with fixing cars, a brief appearance as an attorney and a climax that is best enjoyed sober.
There’s always a touch of soft underbelly in Deverell’s writing. Sing a Worried Song asks: can justice delivered meet expectations with no collateral damage? A poignant question at the moment. And you’ll have to read Sing a Worried Song to find out what William and Arthur think.
THE GODDAUGHTER CAPER
By Melodie Campbell
Raven Books $9.95
The Goddaughter Caper: voted best tale by the inmates of the Holy Cannoli Retirement Home.
Author Campbell scores an all-star romp through Hamilton’s Hess Village’ up-market shops to the Burlington Bay chocked full of concrete shoes and decaying body parts and the latest economical and quiet funeral shady venture featuring cheap, imported pine.
The Goddaughter Caper is funny, zingers-a-plenty, coffins, pop-up dead bodies, and dialogue… the star of any Gino Gallo mystery. The atmosphere this time is a wedding in six weeks organized by her rookie cousin Nico. The new funeral service struggles with bodies being delivered, picked up and re-delivered to another wrong spot. Gino smiles at her fiancé, her promise that “all that” has been left behind.
The real challenge in a series is to keep it approachable…we know the place, the people, but Campbell keeps it fresh…like reading a new book with hints of the past percolating in your memories.
The climax is a dead heat between one-liners and quips like: “I heard he died of heart failure.” “Two slugs from a .38 will do that.” And the climax for the Holy Cannoli Retirement Home goes south in a gasp of giggles.
The Goddaughter Caper, complete with pink poinsettias, is the best yet.
“Sonamabeech!” Bring on another one.
By Peter May
Author Peter May’s Entry Island is one of the finest mysteries I’ve read in a while. Scottish author May has written two award winning series: a Bejing detective, Li Yan, paired with the American forensic pathologist, Margaret Campbell, and the brilliant Enzo Files with Scottish forensic scientist, Enzo MacLeod.
Entry Island sees Detective Sime MacKenzie sent to Entry Island, 850 miles away from the Canadian mainland in the Gulf of St.Lawrence.
With an author of May’s standing you take it for granted that he gets it right: from a murder that has an obvious suspect that doesn’t make sense, an impeccably twisted plot that exposes the deep seeded emotional conflicts between French and English Canada, and the historical abuse that stranded immigrants desperately trying to arrive in Quebec and Montreal.
Entry Island takes us down a path that dregs up a painful past that forces conflicts between the detective’s job and his personal providence.
Author, May writes with grounded compassion linking the deeply engrained sense of place on Entry Island, the past and what future there might be for the residents. In Entry Island, May takes the craft of words to an art and the result is a read that grips you and doesn’t let go. The writing gets under your skin.