Book review: Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

Moonlight Mile
by Dennis Lehane
Little, Brown, 2010
Kenzie & Gennaro #6

Private Investigator Patrick Kenzie and his partner Angie Gennaro featured in six Boston-set novels published between 1994 and 1999. After a gap of 11 years writing other books and screenplays, Dennis Lehane returns to his series characters who have now married and have a four-year-old daughter. Times are tough in the downtown, blue-collar Boston beloved of Kenzie, who is struggling to make ends meet since closing his PI enterprise. He does freelance work for a corporate giant of an insurance company, and is disgusted at himself as he’s now working on the wrong side of the moral divide. He has little choice, though, in the fractured landscape of USA today, where job security, medical insurance and pension benefits are non-existent for an increasing number of desperate people. Kenzie sticks it out because of his devotion to his wife and child, but is very much on the edge of internal meltdown as the novel opens.

So far, so good. The plot proper begins when Beatrice, a woman who sought Kenzie’s help in Gone, Baby, Gone (published in 1998) again seeks him out for a similar reason. The earlier book tells how Kenzie takes on a case for Beatrice, that of finding her missing six-year-old niece Amanda. Readers don’t need to be familiar with the earlier novel as they are updated here as to the outcome of that case and the guilt that Kenzie has felt since. The issue now is that Amanda, now 16, has vanished again – and Kenzie finds himself reluctantly committed to finding her one more time.

Although the book starts well with some interesting minor crimes and detection, it soon becomes bogged down by the presentational style, which is that Kenzie becomes involved in detailed conversations in each situation in which he finds himself on the hunt for Amanda. This device works well in some circumstances, for example when Kenzie interviews the girl’s teachers and fellow-students, but makes any dramatic tension run rapidly into the sands when it is used when Kenzie breaks into a house and is found by the presumed owner and then some Eastern European mobsters, and in every subsequent supposedly exciting or tense scenario thereafter.

Kenzie is a gullible sort, perhaps his brain is addled slightly by his devotion to his daughter (whose character borders on the Disney-esque) and wife. The plot turns out to be an odd mixture of the inventive and the predictable. Although this book is readable, as one would expect from such a respected author, full of witticisms and with various neat but tiny observations about modern American society, its plot is insufficiently credible or convincing for a detection/crime novel.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Other reviews of Moonlight Mile: The Guardian, The New York Times, The Independent (and many others).

Wikipedia: about the author, the Kenzie series in reading order and his other writing (for example, Shutter Island, Mystic River and some episodes of The Wire).

Book review: Tuesday’s Gone by Nicci French

Tuesday’s Gone
by Nicci French
Penguin, 2012
Frieda Klein #2

In Tuesday’s Gone, the second book in the series about psychotherapist Dr Frieda Klein, the authors have hit their stride. The book starts out in classic crime novel mode, when a decomposing body is found by a social worker visiting one of her clients who lives in a deprived area of London. DI Malcolm Karlsson is assigned to investigate; because Michelle Doyce, the client, is a mental-health patient now “released into the community” who cannot speak coherently about the body in her flat, he calls on Frieda to assess Michelle’s state of mind.

From this small beginning the case grows in complexity as the cursory police investigation fails to make any inroads but Frieda, unwilling to accept the way Michelle has been treated, searches for the identity of the dead man herself. Having succeeded (possibly!), the situation then becomes even more apparently confusing, leading Frieda and Karlsson into a reluctant partnership. There are unspoken dynamics between the two of them, and between each of them and a third member of the triangle, DC Yvette Long, that infect subsequent events. In addition, there is a callow management consultant who is tagging along, presumably to report back to Karlsson’s superiors about potential economies.

Not only is the crime plot excellently paced, with revelations arising from Frieda’s psychological insights about various associates of the dead man, but also the characters themselves come to life, particularly that of Frieda whose relationships with an odd crew of family and friends fleshes out her austere, driven personality. These people were introduced in the previous novel but whereas in that book they seemed to distract from the focus of the narrative, here they are more smoothly part of it. The events take place against a rich backdrop of London, whose history lives in these pages (the authors are extremely informative and interesting on this front). As if this isn’t enough, the plot of the first book in the series, Blue Monday, left to some extent hanging, is here continued, integrated into events in a gripping way.

Nicci French, the writing partnership of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, is well known for a slew of excellent standalone suspense novels. Blue Monday was the authors’ first attempt at a series, an attempt which in that book was only partially successful. Here, however, the story is satisfying, exciting and suspenseful, carried by Frieda’s unique perspective and her restless drive to get to the bottom of everything. This is a superb crime novel which gripped me from start to finish – even though it was not hard to work out the identity of the criminal(s) and the climax was a little hasty. Overwhelmingly, this novel is a great example of how to write a second book in a series in the way that it naturally continues from the previous book within the framework of its own independent plot.

I obtained this book free from the Amazon Vine programme.

My Euro Crime review of Blue Monday, the first book in this series.

About the book at the publisher’s website.

Euro Crime: reviews of some of the earlier stand-alone books by Nicci French, including some by me.

Authors’ website, including a link to their rather good blog.

International Dagger shortlist 2012

It is a little more than a month since I last posted my speculation about the shortlist for the CWA’s International Dagger award this year – an award which is given to a book published in translation in the UK for the first time between June 2011 and May 2012. Since that post, I’ve reviewed two more of the eligible titles, The Dark Valley by Valerio Varesi, tr Joseph Farrell, and Night Rounds by Helene Tursten, tr Laura Wideburg. Just as well, as it turned out, because The Dark Valley is on the shortlist, and I’d already read and reviewed the rest!

The shortlist, which was announced at Crime Fest on Friday 25 May, is here (click on book’s title for my review):

Andrea Camilleri – The Potter’s Field tr. Stephen Sartarelli Italy
Maurizio De Giovanni – I Will Have Vengeance tr. Anne Milano Appel Italy
Asa Larsson – Until Thy Wrath be Past tr. Laurie Thompson Sweden
Deon Meyer – Trackers tr. K L Seegers South Africa
Jo Nesbo – Phantom tr. Don Bartlett Norway
Valerio Varesi – The Dark Valley tr. Joseph Farrell Italy

I picked the books by Asa Larsson and Deon Meyer for my own suggested shortlist, but apart from those two I suggested four other titles:

The Caller by Karin Fossum, tr Kyle Semmel Norway
Dregs by Jorn Lier Horst, tr Anne Bruce Norway
Outrage by Arnaldur Indridason, tr Anna Yates Iceland
The Quarry by Johan Theorin, tr Marlaine Delargy Sweden
(hon mention) The Summer of Dead Toys by Antonio Hill, tr Laura McGloughlin (Euro Crime review pending) Spain

So which is my predicted winner? Based on my own predicted shortlist’s overlap with the real shortlist, it is going to be Until Thy Wrath be Past or Trackers. I find it impossible to choose between them, as they are so different: the former is a crime novel and the latter a thriller. So I am going to cop out and call it a dead heat!

All my posts on the International Dagger award.

About this year’s shortlist at the CWA website, including the judges’ reasons for choosing these titles.

Book review: The Nameless Dead by Brian McGilloway

The Nameless Dead
by Brian McGilloway
Macmillan, 2012
Inspector Ben Devlin #5

Islandmore is a small islet in the river marking the border between Strabane in the north and Lifford in the south of Ireland. In the past, even recently, it was used by those in the south as a burial place for stillborn babies: such is the power of religion in these parts that people believe the church’s dogma that these babies cannot be buried in consecrated ground but are forever consigned to limbo. In an open secret, the little bodies were carefully wrapped by a parent or relative, and quietly buried in a “cillan” – sometimes with a sympathetic priest present to say a few words of prayer.

In the present day, the islet is being excavated because the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains has received a tip-off that a suspected informer is buried there. In the days of Ireland’s Troubles, people took the law into their own hands, killing for a variety of reasons. The relatives of these victims could only surmise what had happened, and have never achieved peace of mind by knowing the fate of the “disappeared”, as they are known – another form of limbo. Hence the commission, which operates an amnesty so that informants can relieve their consciences in the knowledge that they will be immune from prosecution. Ben’s role as a Guard is to maintain a police presence while the excavation team do their work.

The two elements of the story collide when the body that is discovered is not that of a man, but of a baby. Initially assuming that the infant was from the cillan, Ben is soon forced to conclude that this is not the case. He is frustrated because he isn’t allowed to investigate the death under the immunity rules of the commission. Matters become complicated when the relatives of the presumed informer become involved in murder.

The Nameless Dead is a satisfying read on several counts. It is a well-plotted crime novel, with the two themes of the disappeared babies and the missing victims of sectarian violence ebbing and flowing into each other in an increasingly complex web of lies and silence. As before, the action switches between Lifford, Ben’s home territory, and Strabane, home to DI Jim Hendry. It delves into dark aspects of the country’s past – the enduring effects of the Troubles on people today, and the grim brainwashing by the church affecting people’s lives. It has contemporary relevance, with the “ghost” estates littering the countryside playing a significant role in both plots. These estates are collections of houses built during Ireland’s “Celtic tiger” economic boom period, but are now abandoned half-finished. A few poor souls are stuck living in a few of the houses; the others are used for various scams or dubious purposes.

In addition to the plot, however, The Nameless Dead is a human novel, a relative rarity in crime fiction. Ben has been on an emotional see-saw in previous novels in the series, wavering in his emotional commitment to his wife and young children, but by now he is a devoted family man, struggling with being a good parent while both his children go through the usual difficult phases of growing up. He carries his attitudes to his work, with great sympathy for various characters who have suffered loss of family members and with a quietly but firmly rebellious attitude to his superiors and others who try to stop him doing what he thinks is morally right in the name of professional expediency.

The Nameless Dead is an excellent crime novel – the plot is perhaps slightly over-complicated for full believability by the end, but it is a compelling read, not least for the strong characterisation of Ben and his work as well as family concerns. It also conveys a strong sense of the community living in this part of Ireland as people struggle with the shadows of the past as well as the effects of the economic mess of the present. Although this book is the fifth in a series, its plot stands alone from previous novels – though it is informed by events in previous books.

I thank Laura Root for this book. She has recently reviewed it for Euro Crime (click for review).

Other reviews of The Nameless Dead: Bookgeeks (Mike Stafford) and The Irish Independent, which calls it “a taut and beautifully written mystery story deeply rooted in the uneasy, claustrophobic border counties of Northern Ireland where on a daily basis the troubled past impinges on the present.”

My reviews of the author’s earlier books: Borderlands (#1) – an exceptionally strong debut novel – Gallows Lane (#2), Bleed a River Deep (#3) and The Rising (#4). The author has also written a standalone (so far) novel, Little Girl Lost.

The theme of “ghost estates” in Ireland is also superbly treated in the latest novel by Tana French, Broken Harbour.

Book review: Face of the Devil by N J Cooper

Face of the Devil
by N J Cooper
Simon & Schuster, 2011
Karen Taylor #3

Face of the Devil varies the formula established in the first two books in this series (No Escape and Lifeblood) so that new readers can easily start here. Karen Taylor is an academic psychologist at the University of Southampton, but this environment is not a feature in this book, apart from one or two minor appearances by her tiresome boss, Max. More to the point, perhaps, Karen’s second career as a consultant to the police has hitherto been to make assessments of convicted offenders. This plot device is abandoned here and instead, Karen is asked to provide psychological insight about a young teenager, Olly, who seems to have stabbed to death another teenager, Suzie, thinking that he is protecting her from the devil.

Suzie is the 15-year-old niece of Giles Henty, a rich stockbroker from London who has taken early retirement and now lives on the Isle of Wight. His yacht is moored in the harbour in Cowes, and Suzie is murdered on her way to board the boat for a ride home, presumably by Olly who is found crying over the body with a bloody knife in his hand. The situation is complicated for the reader, if not yet for the police, because a young runaway, Billy, is hanging around the harbour when the murder occurs, and is in some way involved.

Karen is a no-nonsense woman who not only makes an assessment of Olly’s state of mind in short order, but who also feels compelled to solve the crime at the motivational level, even though the attitude of the police differs. She becomes involved with the families of the victim, of Billy the runaway, and of the presumed perpetrator, as well as with Olly’s psychiatrist, who is vilified by most islanders for his policy of not using drugs in his treatment, which is widely held to have caused the boy to snap.

Karen’s psychological perspectives of the events and people who fill the novel are delivered with certainty and are a cause of some irritation to alpha-male DI Charlie Trench, the policeman in charge of the case and the man who initially called in Karen. There is a lot of attraction between the two, but Karen is engaged to another man and Charlie is even more autocratic and irascible with her here than in previous novels. In some respects, Karen’s role in the book is fascinating, as she is the mouthpiece for the author’s research on mental illness, its causes and treatment. On the other hand, her assurance that what is delivered in a scientific paper or textbook is directly translatable into individuals’ behaviour is oversimplistic and too pedagogical, particularly in the sections near the end concerning various forms of sibling rivalry and jealousy. The psychological parts of the plot are, however, more satisfying than the police investigation of the crime(s), which seems somewhat cursory, perhaps partly because most of it happens offstage apart from when Karen is involved in one of the rather too many coincidental crises that pepper the second half of the book.

Face of the Devil is a solidly plotted novel with a fast-paced second half if a rather too slow first half. Karen is still torn between her feelings for her boyfriend Will and for Charlie, though Will is increasingly the voice of reason whereas Charlie is becoming less sympathetic towards Karen, so the indications are that the triangle will be less of an issue in future. As the book ends, Karen’s new house is about to be built, so it remains to be seen whether her future lies in Southampton or on the island, or if she will continue to oscillate between the two, professionally and personally.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Other reviews of Face of the Devil: Euro Crime (Lizzie Hayes), Bookgeeks (Mike Stafford) and Crime Time.

My reviews of the two previous books in the series: No Escape (#1) and Lifeblood (#2).

Book review: Disgrace by Jussi Adler-Olsen

by Jussi Adler-Olsen
translated by Kyle Semmel
Penguin, 2012
Department Q #2

Disgrace is the second in the Department Q series that began with the excellent Mercy. It has a different translator, but reads equally well. The basement Department Q consists of Inspector Carl Moerk, a veteran, cynical Copenhagen police detective, whose remit is to follow up and ideally solve cold cases. Despite the piles of such files on his desk, Moerk here decides to investigate one that has been mysteriously left there, even though the double-murder investigation concerned was solved and the criminal still in prison after 20 years.

Moerk, with the not-always smooth assistance of Assad, officially a cleaner, and a new secretary, Rosie, follows up on the clues provided, soon realising that there is a whole swathe of crimes that were probably committed by a group of people, one of whom has been persuaded to take the fall. Readers know that this line of thought is correct because the story of the criminals is told in parallel with that of the current investigation. The crucial link is that of a woman called Kimmie, who is living rough on the streets even though she is a rich heiress. Something happened to Kimmie, originally a member of the evil group, which has caused her to live the life of a fugitive – and there is now a race between the police and the criminals to find her.

Although readable, Disgrace lacks suspense because the reader is told the identity of the criminals from the start. What is more, the male members of the group, whose lives we follow as the book unfolds, are caricatures of badness: they rape, assault, torture and kill people and animals, and invariably behave appallingly, flaunting their inherited wealth. Because they are so relentlessly awful, it is not possible to be involved with them; their role in the book is simply to make the reader hate them and wish for their comeuppance.

The police characters are satisfyingly idiosyncratic; the details of their concerns and interactions are wryly amusing, but in themselves insufficient to maintain interest for the 500 pages of this novel. Several of the personal themes introduced in Mercy are reprised, but not advanced, here.

The strongest parts of the book by far are the descriptions of Kimmie’s life on the streets – a theme, however, that was more compellingly treated in Karin Alvtegen’s excellent (and short!) suspense thriller, Missing. Of the criminals, Kimmie is the most three-dimensional and interesting character, despite an odd obsession with the letter K, though as with the other criminals, we never learn what inspired her to make the awful lifestyle choices that caused her to commit brutal crimes.

I received this book free of charge as part of the Amazon Vine programme. Its original title, incidentally, translates literally as The Pheasant Killers.

Other reviews of Disgrace: Wicked Wonderful Words, and 19 Amazon customer reviews (18 of them awarding the book 4 or 5 out of 5 stars).

My review of Mercy, the first in this series (which, at time of writing, is planned to be a quartet).

Scan Magazine: interview with the author.

Book review: Night Rounds by Helene Tursten

Night Rounds
by Helene Tursten
translated by Laura A. Wideburg
Soho Crime, 2012 (first published 1999)
Irene Huss #2

The Lowander Institute is a crumbling private hospital in Goteborg, Sweden – not only is the fabric of the building falling to pieces but the number of patients is rapidly declining over time. One night, there is a power cut, which causes a crisis for one of the patients in intensive care who is recovering from an operation as the standby generator in the basement did not work. A nurse is found, lying dead, on the generator – which is subsequently found to have been sabotaged.

Criminal Inspector Irene Huss and her colleagues are called in: the novel tells the story of the case as the police search for a motive and evidence that might lead to a perpetrator. Although the detectives uncover plenty of information, it is impossible for them to tell which of it is relevant to the crime, particularly when other bad deeds become apparent.

The bulk of the novel follows the established trajectory of this series, as the team of cops meets every morning to assess progress in the case and to assign tasks for the next day. Irene and her colleagues talk to witnesses who believe that the criminal is the ghost of a nurse who hanged herself many years ago in the attic there, and who is now said to undertake her “night rounds” between midnight and one in the morning, which is the time when the murder occurred.

The other familiar element of the novel is the window it presents into Irene’s domestic life and issues with her chef husband Krister, twin daughters, and dog Sammie. Several aspects slot into place, as the two novels in the series subsequent to this one have been translated some time ago. Irene herself is a woman thankfully immune to fashion and trends, so she often feels dowdy compared with some of her glossy interviewees, and indeed is quite susceptible (in theory) to the handsomer of the male ones.

Night Rounds is, as can be expected from Helene Tursten, a good, solid police procedural that holds up well in the 13 years since it was first published in Swedish. The ending is a little ham-fisted and the essence of the story lacks the punch of some of the other books, though like the others, the crime is rooted in the past so the fascinating uncovering of old events and passions forms an integral part of the narrative. The book is an engaging read and no doubt will be enjoyed by those who, like myself, are very fond of Irene Huss as a realistic, independent character juggling personal and professional demands. Laura A. Wideburg, who has previously translated novels by Inger Frimansson, has done an excellent job here in conveying the story in colloquial (American English) prose.

I purchased this book. It is one of the titles eligible for the CWA International Dagger award for 2012.

The Irene Huss series in order: Detective Inspector Huss (#1), Night Rounds (#2), The Torso (#3) and The Glass Devil (#4). (Click on title for my review.)

Other reviews of Night Rounds: Murder by Type, International Noir Fiction (a comparison of the book with the TV film), Scandinavian Crime Fiction (Barbara Fister), Kirkus Reviews and The Crime Segments (a combination review with Detective Inspector Huss).

Book review: Law of Attraction by Allison Leotta

Law of Attraction
by Allison Leotta
Touchstone/Simon&Schuster 2010

Law of Attraction is an excellent debut novel by a natural storyteller that will be highly enjoyable to those who, like me, enjoy legal thrillers. Anna Curtis is a newly qualified assistant attorney in Washington, DC, whose role is to deal with misdemeanours, usually concerning domestic violence. By this route, she handles the case of Laprea Johnson, whose boyfriend and father of her twins has beaten her up. Anna prepares all the paperwork for cases such as these and builds up the material ready for trial. When Laprea’s court date arrives, however, Anna is disappointed and worried about the outcome.

Anna’s personal dilemma is that the defence attorney, Nick Wagner, is a gorgeously handsome man she knows from law school. Nick makes a strong play for Anna, who succumbs. Their romance is rudely interrupted, however, by the next, inevitable crisis in Laprea’s life. This crisis finds Anna seconded to the state’s chief homicide prosecutor, Jack Bailey. Increasingly conflicted both by her feelings about Nick and about possible holes in the case the prosecution is preparing, Anna heads into personal and professional disaster.

There are lots of things to like about this book. It is a good story, well told, with plenty of twists and turns – including a good one at the end. Anna is an attractive protagonist, with just the right mix of ambition and personal insecurity. Perhaps the most interesting aspect, though, is the message held in the title of the book, the “law of attraction”. Both Anna and Laprea are examples of people who suffered ordeals in their childhoods and are inevitably affected by these experiences as adults in the choices they make. Without being heavy-handed, the author shows convincingly the pain and conflicts inherent in rising above the strong formative influences we experience as children.

I purchased this book.

Read other reviews of this novel at: Psychotic State, S. Krishna’s books and Rhapsody in Books.

Above the Law: interview with the author, who is a federal prosecutor in Washington, DC, specialising in felony sex crimes and domestic violence.

Author’s website, with more information about the book and her next novel, and more. Extracts from reviews of the book can also be read at the author’s website.

Video (via the publisher) of the author talking about her book.

Book review: The Dark Valley by Valerio Varesi

The Dark Valley
by Valerio Varesi
translated by Joseph Farrell
MacLehose Press/Quercus, 2012 (first published 2005)
Commissario Soneri #2

The titular dark valley is of course metaphorical as well as literal, as is quickly apparent in the second Soneri book. It is Montelupo in Tuscany, the place where Soneri grew up and where he goes to take a couple of weeks respite from his job with the questura. To make sure the reader has not missed the point, Soneri walks in the mountains to look for mushrooms, but the only ones he can find are black chantrelles, known locally as “trumpets of death”.

The first half of the novel is exceedingly slow, as Soneri becomes reacquainted with the villagers he remembers from boyhood and as he tramps around the mountains, which cause the night to fall quickly and early, and which are home to deceiving mists. There are many signs of unease in this long section, which Soneri, determined to keep away from work, avoids – despite the frequent gossip he witnesses among the innkeeper and his clientele, and despite the unnerving shots he hears while on his hikes. Angela, Soneri’s girlfriend, is almost entirely present in this novel only as a voice down the phone. The relationship between these two characters is confrontative without being very comforting; and indeed, Soneri and the villagers fail to gel and are little more than receptacles who witness the unfolding events.

The hints and mysteries come to the fore in the second half of the novel, which is more absorbing, partly because Soneri becomes more compelled to find out about his father, who abruptly left the village at about the time the teenage Soneri also left to complete his education. This personal element brings the novel somewhat to life. In the end, the mystery plot has a satisfying and credible resolution, the details of which I shall not discuss here as one has to read a long way into the book before finding out anything significant, which immediately reveals to the reader the motivation for the crime(s), so I do not want to destroy the pleasure of discovery after such a long preamble.

As with the first book in this series, River of Shadows, there is too much dependence on to-ing and fro-ing to delay the final explanation of the plot. In this case, the to-ing and fro-ing involves Soneri, and later others, hiking back and forth to the mountains to try to find the reclusive “Woodsman”, who is key both to the current plot and to Soneri’s finding out about his father’s past. Rather than increasing the tension or advancing the plot, these events mainly serve to pad out the (quite short) novel until the end.

There are certainly elements to enjoy in this book – most particularly the depiction of rustic life in a tiny village where a dialect is spoken that nobody else understands: where the old ways are giving way to the modern world of business, and old crimes are being superseded by the newer ones of drug dealing and the like. As Soneri, a somewhat harsh and very glum character, says: “When you get down to it, it’s always hard to believe how appalling reality is. It invariably takes you by surprise.”

The Soneri books so far are rather slow-paced, morose and flat, with none of the warmth, vigour and passion of other Italian crime novels I’ve read, such as those by Camilleri or Carofiglio. Here, we are in the territory of people such as the innkeeper, “shackled to a vision of his own ruin”. The atmosphere and sense of menace are well-depicted, as is the lack of comprehension of the older, traditional folk for the attitudes and behaviour of the next generations – but this is not quite enough to make a compelling whole.

I borrowed this book from the library. It is one of the titles eligible for the CWA International Dagger award for 2012.

My review of River of Shadows, the first in this series.

Other reviews of The Dark Valley: Euro Crime (Michelle Peckham), The Crime Segments, The Herald Scotland and Italian Mysteries.

Book review: Deadly Appearances by Gail Bowen

Deadly Appearances
by Gail Bowen
McClelland & Stewart, 2004
First published in 1990
Joanne Kilbourn #1

The first in this popular Canadian series opens when Andy Boychuck, just elected leader of Saskatchewan’s provincial official opposition party, begins to give a speech at an event to celebrate his victory. Before he can say anything, he takes a drink and collapses on stage. Joanne Kilbourn, his speechwriter and friend, dashes to the body but is unable to revive him. She does, however, stop Andy’s press secretary from drinking from the same tainted source.

From this chaos we learn more about Joanne, a 45-year-old widow, and her three children, her friends and her dedication to the political group surrounding Andy. Joanne is still mourning her husband Ian, so Andy’s death brings back strong memories for her. As a result, she decides to write a biography of her dead friend – a decision that is, unknown to her, a dangerous one. By this means, the author conveys an absorbing sense of life in this province, in particular the small clique of workers dedicated to their party’s cause.

Andy’s wife Eva has a life independent of him and his political circle. At the start of the book, Joanne joins in the general condemnation of Eva for her lack of commitment to Andy’s career. I, however, sympathised with Eva from the start, so I was pleased that Joanne comes to realise that her group’s irritation with Eva for, for example, wanting her husband buried according to her own wishes rather than for political reasons, is inappropriate. Eva is a key to the mystery of Andy’s death, which Joanne gradually comes to realise has its roots in Andy’s hidden personality.

It isn’t difficult to guess the identity of the villain, and one downside is a mysterious undiagnosable illness that turns out to have a diagnosable explanation: but these minor flaws don’t detract from the many strong points of the novel. It is a great portrait of a family and community lifestyle set against the darker secrets that reach back into the past of quite a few of the cast of characters. The Canadian setting, as well as the tight political circle of Joanne and her close associates, is convincingly conveyed. Deadly Appearances is a most engaging read.

I purchased my copy of this novel as a composite edition of the first three Joanne Kilbourn novels.

Read another review of this book at Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan (where it is revealed that Andy is based on a real politician!).

In the Spotlight: Margot Kinberg writes an insightful analysis of this novel.

Q/A with Gail Bowen at Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan.

Author’s website, including details of the Joanne Kilbourn series in reading order.