The Brutal Heart / Gail Bowen
Toronto : McClelland & Stewart, c2008.
The eleventh book in Bowen's Joanne Kilbourn mystery series, The Brutal Heart is a very timely tale of political intrigue and murder. Joanne began the series as a political wife whose husband is killed randomly, starting her off on her detecting career. In this book, happily remarried many years later, she struggles to find out why a Regina call girl has been murdered and how it is connected to the political chances of Ginny Monaghan, candidate for the conservative party in the Palliser riding in southern Saskatchewan. Cristal, the murdered call girl, had a client list of many of the big names in Regina society, including Joanne's new husband.
As usual with Bowen's stories, this covers much emotional ground, with Joanne feeling empathy for the person murdered as well as those affected by the crime. Much of the action takes place when Joanne is with her husband or her (now grown) children. There is also quite a bit of current pop culture referenced; daughter Taylor loves watching Stargate, they cook up some Kraft Dinner after debating on which flavour is their favourite (classic), and people in court check their BlackBerrys. That sets in firmly in current day Regina, and the setting is also a vital part of these stories. As a Saskatchewan girl myself, I'm always pleased to read a description of Wascana Park in the centre of Regina, or to get a look at Saskatoon as Joanne flies up for the day, or catch a glancing reference to La Ronge (way up North, indeed.)
One of Bowen's strengths is her ability to describe political life so intimately. Politics is always an issue for Joanne, and in this book, she gets involved with Ginny Monaghan's campaign as a journalist asked to write something on "Women in Politics". Because of her long association with campaigns, she is able to spot trends very quickly. At one point she states:
I found this Murphy's-Law-like list of problems kind of amusing, especially as an employee of a public library where we are always vigilant about such typos! Bowen writes adult stories, with nothing set out in black or white. There are two sides to every story even if eventually you realize that one side may not be quite truthful. In this book especially there is much discussion of sexual motivation for crime, and of the way in which women, from call girls to politicians, have to deal with the different standards they are held to in the same line of business as men. It's fascinating and always thought provoking. If you'd like a mystery which is honest but never bleak or hopeless, try one of the Joanne Kilbourn books. This latest offering maintains the same tone as the previous ten, and if you begin at the beginning you will really start feeling close to Joanne and her family. Recommended, if you want a mystery which is not quite hard-boiled but not quite cozy either, and carries a strong sense of place.
If the candidate is dogged by a persistent cold; if the campaign literature arrives from the printers late and with a typo stating the candidate has given his life to pubic service; if the bus breaks down; if the heavens open up on the one scheduled outdoor event; if the crowds dwindle; if the media's attention wanders; and if the staffers are snarling at each other, a campaign manager knows without checking Decima or Ekos that the candidate is tanking.