No thrills here, literary or otherwise


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THIS tepid, unnecessarily long mystery is no thriller, literary or commercial.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/01/2012 (4034 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THIS tepid, unnecessarily long mystery is no thriller, literary or commercial.

It is a disappointing second novel by Scotland’s Stef Penny, whose first book, 2006’s The Tenderness of Wolves, set in Ontario in the 1860s, was an international success, winning Britain’s coveted Costa Award (formerly the Whitbread).

The many ingredients common to mysteries, including a search for a missing person, blood, a memorable setting, a dead body, poisons, a jaded private investigator and a big secret, don’t in this case make for an interesting or entertaining read.

The big secret, for example, is pretty obvious long before the big revelation near the end. A cliché strainer and some more vigorous editing would have helped improve the lazy writing.

Penney uses a lot of dialogue, to be expected from a novelist who is also a screenwriter. She does, however, enjoy the freedom of the novel to provide brooding internal monologues of the two main characters, who are, unfortunately, not very interesting.

Ray Lovell is a stereotypical private investigator and James Janko, known as JJ, an alienated teenager. The story is told in their alternate first-person voices.

Lovell, regaining his senses after a car crash, begins recollecting the story, which begins when a stranger walks into his office flourishing a wad of cash with a special reason for seeking him out. Lovell is only part Gypsy, but his client, a full-blooded Romany, sees this as an essential quality to find his daughter.

Penney makes the nomenclature and politically correct references fairly clear, and she includes 10 terms at the front of the novel to help.

Lovell is asked to find the client’s daughter, Rose Janko, missing for over six years after abandoning a bad marriage. The marriage was arranged to hide something and Rose leaves her abusive husband, who loves someone else, at her first opportunity and disappears.

Running counterpoint is JJ’s story of first love trying to reconcile his desire to assimilate, or at least get a traditional education and a girlfriend without abandoning his Gypsy roots. However, JJ reads better as a young woman than the teenage boy he is supposed to be, which plagues the reader from beginning to end. A lesbian JJ would have worked better than an androgynous one.

Victor Enns is a Winnipeg writer.

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