Friday, October 14, 2016

Stars and Laments: Mysteries of East Coast Canada

Fire in the Stars / Barbara Fradkin
Toronto: Dundurn, c2016.
324 p.

Amanda Doucette, recently returned from Nigeria where she experienced trauma as an aid worker caught up in violence, is supposed to meeting up with a friend and fellow survivor in Newfoundland. A camping trip together will be restful, restorative, he says.

But when she gets to Newfoundland, he is not there to meet her. Amanda hops on her motorbike, hooks up her dog trailer, and heads off for his place -- only to find his wife Sheri alone there, suspicious and angry. Phil has already left for a camping trip, taking their son Tyler with him.

Feeling a bit worried herself (and unwelcome at his home) she heads off in the general direction that they were planning on going, hoping to track him down. She partners up with Chris Tymko, an RCMP officer from out west now stationed in Newfoundland, who believes her when she says something is wrong. Together they follow up on rumours, sightings, and eventually murders. There is a social conscience in this book too; one of the threads has to do with illegal foreign workers on a fishing trawler who are trying to escape their servitude, while another is Amanda and Phil's PTSD and how it's affecting their lives. 

It's a straightforward mystery, with a strong setting, and a strong character setting up a new series. There were a couple of things that I didn't like personally; Amanda's dog Kaylee travels with her in a motorbike dog trailer & she's a big part of the story. Unfortunately I'm not much for pets and mystery stories together like this. One more little quibble for me; Chris Tymko is a Western Canadian of Ukrainian descent, and at one point relates that his grandparents came from "the Ukraine". A Ukrainian would not say "the" in this case. It's actually quite a contentious issue -- the country is Ukraine, not "the" region of anywhere else.

But apart from my very individual taste, this is a rapidly moving and easily read mystery that keeps you guessing and evokes a definite sense of place.

Lament for Bonnie / Anne Emery
Toronto: ECW Press, c2016
332 p.

Set in Cape Breton, this is a book full of music, and family, and the way the past can rise up and disrupt the present.

Twelve year old Bonnie MacDonald -- the youngest member of her family's famous Clan Donnie highland band, and a step-dancer -- has disappeared after a family party. Nobody has seen a thing, and as the days go on, they all begin to suspect the worst.

Bonnie's disappearance highlights the fractures in this family, between spouses, cousins, generations. As RCMP officer Pierre Maguire (from Montreal, which he left hoping for kinder, gentler work) investigates, the threads of the mystery tangle so tightly the reader is suspecting everyone at once.

Except for the other children, of course. And Emery has created some great characters here; the children are children -- realistic, thoughtful, trying to interpret what they are seeing and hearing. Bonnie's cousin Normie, visiting for the summer, has visions she's not sure what to do with, but connects deeply with her great-grandmother who is also gifted with the sight.

While the conclusion gets a bit over the top and melodramatic for my sensibility, it was at least not horrific. This family is a complicated and interesting one, and the Cape Breton setting with all of its Highland ancestry shines brightly.

If you're looking to take a trip to the East Coast in the company of some mysterious circumstances and strong female leads, either one of these may provide you with the means to do so.


  1. Oh these sound interesting and perhaps more for the setting than the mysteries themselves!

  2. Wonderful reviews of these two books, Melwyk! I agree with Iliana's comment about the settings.


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