A Better Man takes us to Montreal, Quebec, where spring flooding may overwhelm the province, political intrigue swirls in the homicide department, and a man seems to have killed his pregnant wife, although no body has been recovered. The hero needs to solve the murder, get used to work for his son-in-law, and, as a side project, dynamite some ice dams so the province does not go entirely under water. It’s a bit too much, even if the intrigue is very twisted and the interactions between characters finely observed and rendered. It’s exciting but I found it best not to think too hard about the plot.
Tag Archives: Canada
Barkskins is the ambitious saga of two families, descended from two French emigrants to what was now New France, aka Canada, in the 17th century. The story follows the families into the present and travels to China, New Zealand, and Europe as the descendants seem to be very eager to explore new lands (and poor enough that sometimes they ave no other choices. At 700 pages, this is not for the faint of heart but the massive historical research behind the book and the variety of characters kept my interest. There is too much preaching about clearcutting to my taste when the story itself could tell the tale, and although I always love strong women the presence of so many in centuries where opportunities for women were limited is a little suspect — but still a massive achievement.
Liberty Street starts with a breathtaking chapter in which the heroine suddenly reveals her secret to her long-time partner. Disaster ensues and the rest of the book is a gigantic flashback of her life in a small Canadian town, to which she eventually returns. The flashback is a rather conventional story, although with interesting characters, especially the parents of the heroine, and it is sometimes pointlessly detailed, as with the story of a school acquaintance who was once thought dead, but the beginning is amazing.
Much better know for his Sherlock Holmes series, Arthur Conan Doyle also wrote historical novels, of which he was apparently very proud. The Refugees is one of them, and it ambitiously traces the picaresque adventures of a young American who travels to France, helps his Protestant friend survive many perils in procuring a priest for the secret marriage of Louis XV and Madame de Maintenon, and swiftly retreats to North America with friend, friend’s wife, and friend’s father upon the banishing of Huguenots from France. The French adventures are far-fetched — but what happens on the way back (iceberg, Indian attacks) seems utterly unbelievable. Add to that the totally helpless wife who cannot even see the fauna and flora of Canada without them being pointed out to her by her menfolk, and it becomes clear why Sherlock Holmes remains Conan Doyle’s legacy.
In The Devil You Know, a young journalist is assigned to cover the case of a suspected serial child rapist and murderer who may have killed her childhood best friend, and finds herself stalked and terrified, sometimes by real events and sometimes by the twists of her own mind. The story cleverly wraps the crime reporting with her mother’s personal history. Very well done and perfect for a Friday 13th scary night reading.
Flavia de Luce is back, this time attending a mysterious boarding school in Canada. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust features the requisite corpse but only one this time, and mot of the action swirls around the complicated real purpose of the school. Delicious, as always, even if the amount of chemistry experiments is way down from that in previous installments.
Can a good novel come out of a real-life police mystery? I’m not sure, and it did not work for me with A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain, a dark tale in which First Nations young women regularly disappear off a highway in British Columbia, meth dealers control the police, and young children are starved and abused. Fun! The main story is interspersed with folk tales told by a dying uncle (more fun) and I wanted nothing more than bolt out of there, like most of the teenagers who are the heroes of the story, I bet…