The Gifted is the 14th novel Regina writer Gail Bowen has delivered to fans of mystery and detective fiction, and it does not disappoint. This novel offers all the reliable Bowen virtues -- deftly drawn characters, unusual twists and turns of plot, plenty of authentic details about contemporary Canadian life, and, of course, the irrepressible and genteel upper-middle class sleuth, Joanne Kilbourn.
The Gifted can fairly be said to confirm Bowen's growing reputation as "the queen of Canadian crime fiction."
Bowen's mantelpiece groans with awards and tributes: Deadly Appearances (1990) was a nominee for W.H. Smith's best first novel award; A Colder Kind of Death (1995) won the coveted Arthur Ellis award for best crime novel. Readers Digest named her best mystery novelist in 2008, and the Crime Writers of Canada saluted her with the Derrick Murdoch Award in 2009.
Joanne and her husband, Zack Shreve, a quadriplegic and brilliant litigator, are an established power couple in Regina society. They are wealthy and enthusiastic young grandparents who are also raising Taylor, the teenage daughter of Sally Love, a now dead but celebrated painter.
As this latest novel unfolds, Taylor is revealing that she may be as brilliant an artist as her mother. Joanne and Zack are concerned and watchful, hoping that Taylor does not share her mother's mercurial and promiscuous nature as well, one which complicated the former's art and compromised her happiness.
Problems quickly emerge when Taylor offers a stunning nude portrait of a beautiful young man named Julian for sale at a charity auction.
Taylor's portrait, BlueBoy 21, is a daring re-interpretation of Gainsborough's Blue Boy (1770), one of art history's most famous works.
Unfortunately, we learn that Julian just happens to be the paid lover of a prominent and married socialite, who of course, moves in the same elite circle as Jo and her husband.
That hot and dangerous liaison provides Bowen with an opportunity to experiment with a new dimension in the Kilbourn series. While her leading lady has always been romantically involved and, most recently, deeply in love with her husband, The Gifted ventures into scenes of explicit sexuality not present in previous books.
By the time the unfaithful married socialite is found dead in her home, the victim of both blackmail and a fatal blow to the head, a long list of possible killers has collected: the murderer could well have been Julian, trying to escape her embrace; it could have been her heartbroken husband; her emotionally unbalanced and jealous stepdaughter, or even Riel, the addicted-to-drugs partner of Joanne's lovely daughter Mieka.
Thanks to Bowen's gift for nuance in the creation of characters, the identity of the real killer comes as the kind of shock that crime readers live for.
Before that revelation, however, a second death, more poignant than the first, will occur.
There's something for everyone here, as The Gifted brings together Regina's world of artists, lawyers, politicians, the young and vulnerable, the city's upper crust and its emerging importance as a centre of aboriginal activism.
There is also a nod to today's high-tech dangers -- any transgression, we are shown, even the most intimate, can end up entertaining others on their cellphones or computers.
The Gifted will prove a popular read, and will undoubtedly invite a fresh wave of new readers into the wonderfully crafted world of Gail Bowen's mystery fiction.
Lesley Hughes is a Winnipeg-based writer and broadcaster.