Book review: Amuse Bouche by Anthony Bidulka

Amuse Bouche
by Anthony Bidulka
Insomniac Press, 2003
Russell Quant #1

As its title implies, Amuse Bouche begins in an enticingly charming style with PI Russell Quant, whose office is in what was called the Professional Womyn’s Center (now renamed PWC) in Saskatoon, Canada, musing on his lack of clients. When he does score some work, Russell’s cases are usually at the level of finding missing cats or casserole dishes. Hence he jumps at the chance to solve a mystery for rich businessman Harold Chavall. Discretion is Russell’s watchword, as it turns out that the mystery concerns Harold’s bridegroom Tom, who stood up Harold at the altar, so to speak. Although not entirely in the closet, Harold would prefer a quiet but efficient investigation as to Tom’s whereabouts, rather than involving the police.

The book starts very well, in brisk style and replete with neat observations about the Saskatoon and Saskatchewan scene, both in terms of its people and its environment. Russell is a pleasantly engaging narrator who immediately has the reader on his side. Unfortunately, however, the plot is far too protracted – Russell follows Tom’s trail to France but it takes him 200 pages to discover the basic facts of the disappearance which have been evident to the reader pretty much from the outset.

The second part of the book is stronger than the first, in which the action shifts from France back to Saskatoon, when Russell tries to interest his police contact in a reciprocal information-sharing partnership, as well as digging into the backgrounds of Harold’s and Tom’s circle of friends and business associates. Although there is much to enjoy about the novel, at 400 pages it is too long for the story it tells. Nevertheless, I loved all the local atmosphere and details of Russell’s friends and neighbours, not least the Ukrainian aspects, and look forward to meeting them again.

I bought my copy of this book. I thank Bill of Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan for bringing this author to my attention. His review of Amuse Bouche is here, and his other reviews and posts about the author’s books are here.

Other reviews of Amuse Bouche: Quill and Quire, Buried in Print (which makes a good point about the lack of sufficient editing) and Reviewing the Evidence.

16 thoughts on “Book review: Amuse Bouche by Anthony Bidulka

  1. I agree that Bill’s reviews are very tempting and it is always nice to read crime books set in a part of the world that I don’t know much about. The term ‘amuse bouche’ reminds me of nice meals my husband and I have had in France.

  2. I have this one on my wishlist also thanks to Bill. Sad that it’s too long for the story it tells but it ain’t Robinson Caruso there….then again I’m currently reading (listening to) Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her which must run to nearly 1000 pages in physical format it’s nearly 30 hours in audio format which is longer even than Elizabeth Geroge (though more entertaining)

    • I find Trollope so easy-going, Bernadette (& always v long)- I really like CYFH, in that it is a good story with some independent women characters while at the same time showing the social and legal constraints they lived in at the time.

  3. Bidulka’s books are very enjoyable and rather charming, but they do tend to turn into a travelogue – it feels sometimes like you’re trapped looking at his holiday photos!

    • I know what you mean, Sharon – I was quite entranced at first, but hope/think he may have grown more focused in future outings.

  4. Maxine – Oh, I’m so glad you liked this one! I’ve discovered Bidulka myself just early this year and I’ve enjoyed the series thus far too. I like the Quant character very much and I hope you’ll enjoy other novels in the series.

    • Quant is very engaging, I liked his (the author’s) sense of humour, Margot, including his sharp observations of the local scene.

  5. Thanks for the shout-out, and I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this debut. I haven’t yet read on with the series, but I still remember the characters well and hope to try another sometime.

  6. Maxine: Thanks for mentioning me. I am glad you enjoyed the book while recognizing there are flaws. I find Russell a memorable character whose personality stays with me. Of current sleuths he is the one I wish I could go traveling with outside Saskatchewan. If you get a chance to meet his creator, Anthony, I am sure you would enjoy talking with him.

    • That’s a good point, Bill – Russell sounds like a far more engaging companion than other fictional sleuths!

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