Book review: The Wandering Soul Murders by Gail Bowen

The Wandering Soul Murders
by Gail Bowen
McClelland and Stewart 2004
first published 1992
Joanne Kilbourn #3

In the third novel of this engaging series, Joanne Kilbourn has moved back to Regina to establish a home for her new daughter Taylor. As ever, a strong element of family ties pervades this novel, as Jo’s eldest daughter Mieka has returned to live with Jo while she establishes a second branch of her Saskatoon catering business. Mieka’s wedding is looming, so Jo is both concerned with the arrangements, and with her worries about Mieka, who has given up her college degree course to start her business.

A couple of coincidences kick-start the mystery plot. First, Mieka finds the murdered body of her temporary cleaner in a garbage can behind the city hall site of her business. Then, an unwelcome visitor turns up: a manipulative woman called Christy who was engaged to Peter, Jo’s eldest son. The young couple had broken up and Peter is currently away working, but Christy tells Jo that they have now got back together again and that Peter has invited her to Mieka’s engagement party weekend at her future in-laws’ house. Reluctantly, Jo includes Christy in the trip to the party, slowly realising the extent to which Christy is obsessed with her. Christy is also abruptly rude about the dead girl, upsetting Jo by her lack of sympathy. The second coincidence arrives in the form of the next murder victim.

Jo is determined to uncover some truths about the blight that seems to be hanging over her family. There is also some good news, though, as an old friend invites her to be a panellist on a TV show about Canadian politics. One of the other participants, on a different side of the ideological fence, is Keith, the uncle of Meika’s fiance Greg. Jo becomes romantically interested in Keith.

Although the main framework of the novel concerns Jo’s family relationships and domestic arrangements, there is a strong undercurrent of social tragedy underlying events, which gradually builds to a tense climax when Jo and little Taylor are on a lakeside holiday.

The Wandering Soul Murders is a compelling, easy read: the account of Jo and her family’s life carries the reader along. The darker themes are handled well on an emotional level, but perhaps not so strongly in terms of plot. I do recommend this series: I’ve now read the first three books and shall definitely read more.

I bought this book.

Other reviews of The Wandering Soul Murders: Kirkus reviews and Books in Canada. The book has also been made into a TV film, which from the IMDB plot summary differs in some central respects from the book.

Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan: posts about Gail Bowen and her books.

My reviews of the first two books in this series: Deadly Appearances and Murder at the Mendel (in which Taylor is introduced).

Author’s website.

8 thoughts on “Book review: The Wandering Soul Murders by Gail Bowen

  1. Maxine: I am glad you are enjoying one of my favourite series. I have found few authors created a family for their sleuth that is as important to their mysteries. Gail develops Joanne’s character and family throughout the series. I look forward to each book for the mystery and to learn what is happening in Joanne’s personal life.

  2. I’ve been keeping track of your reviews of this series and intend to dip into this series at some point. the fact that both you and Bill recommend this writer is a definite plus.

  3. Maxine – I like this series very much and I’m so glad to read that you do too. I think you’ve highlighted one of the strong aspects of the series: the way Bowen Kilbourn’s personal life with the mysteries that she investigates. It’s not easy to do that well without too much reliance on coincidence and other “tricks of the trade” but Bowen does it beautifully in my opinion. Thanks for the excellent review.

  4. ditto – that’s a great review of a great series. Gail Bowen always does a good job of combining an intriguing murder plot with the details of Joanne Kilbourn’s life – I think she carries that off better than almost anyone else. I love reading her describing what they’re having for dinner!

  5. I keep meaning to catch up on this series, but I just can’t get out from under these library books and a friend’s stack. I am totally smitten with Anne Holt’s Hanne Wilhelmson’s series and her character and am dismayed that I can’t just continue on my merry way into Book 2. Thanks to you and Norm for so positively reviewing Blind Goddess. Now the waiting for the next one begins.

  6. Pingback: The Wandering Soul Murders by Gail Bowen | Petrona Book Reviews archive

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