Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Frozen Canadian mystery a refreshing treat
ANYONE who thinks Canadian mystery novels can't compete with their British counterparts has clearly not been introduced to Giles Blunt and his Inspector John Cardinal series.
Until the Night is the sixth book in the award-winning author's popular series, currently being developed for CTV and set in the fictional small town of Algonquin Bay, Ont. (which incidentally, sounds an awful lot like Blunt's hometown of North Bay).
Though it's been two years since the death of his wife, Cardinal is still wrestling with loneliness, unable to embrace life as a bachelor. He's grown closer to his partner, Lise Delorme, but neither of them is sure exactly how far their feelings go.
A body found outside a seedy motel leads Cardinal and Delorme to question local gangster Leonard Priest, the owner of Club Risque, an Ottawa sex club. When another woman of Priest's acquaintance goes missing, the case heats up -- as does Cardinal's personal life.
Meanwhile, Delorme discovers a woman's frozen body chained and manacled in an abandoned cabin in the woods. And that's just the first one. Someone is killing women by purposely freezing them to death.
Until the Night's murderous plot line is nicely offset by the awkward possibility of a romance between the two detectives. Unfortunately, both of them -- Cardinal in particular -- seem intent on freezing out any kind of emotional intimacy.
The main plot line alternates with excerpts from "The Blue Notebook," a kind of diary or logbook narrated by an unknown author. It follows a team of researchers in the Arctic and seems to take place sometime in the recent past. The team members find themselves at odds with nature -- and each other -- when their equipment and shelter are destroyed and they must fight for their very survival.
The correlation between the two plot lines is not made clear until the end of the novel, but the Arctic scenes reflect Northern Ontario's unforgiving winter conditions. Ever present in Blunt's stories, the Canadian wilderness is a perfect backdrop for Cardinal's emotional landscape.
"It had felt good," Blunt writes of Cardinal's feelings, "as if something inside him, not his heart but some lesser-known organ of feeling, long frozen, had somehow melted... like recovering the feeling in fingers numbed with cold."
It's fitting then, that the final showdown takes place on an icy lake, just before Cardinal himself makes another breakthrough, this time of the emotional kind.
Cardinal is a hybrid of the traditional, hard-boiled police detective and the sensitive, modern sleuth: a kinder, gentler version of John Rebus in Scottish writer Ian Rankin's famous series and a slightly older version of Kate Atkinson's Edinburgh detective Jackson Brodie. Readers of either series are sure to find themselves rooting for Cardinal.
Having written for TV series such as Law & Order, Blunt is a seasoned crime writer. Frequent references to all things Canadian, such as President's Choice and Holt Renfrew, never allow the reader to forget where they are. But make no mistake, Blunt is easily as good as any of mystery writers out there today, regardless of nationality.
Lindsay McKnight works in the arts in Winnipeg.
Until the Night
By Giles Blunt
Random House Canada, 320 pages, $30
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 11, 2012 J9
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