Lambert’s new thriller comes with a conscience
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Evil developers wielding bribes and violent threats plan to turn an ecological paradise in the Laurentians into a razed-earth glitzy resort playground for the one-percenters of the world.
Hopelessly outnumbered in money, power, bought politicians and gangs of thugs, a coalition of activists, Indigenous people, ordinary Québécois and the friends and families of our primary protagonists Marie Russell and Roméo Leduc desperately tries to save the pristine mountain.
And suddenly entering the fray is global environmental superstar Magnus Sorensen, a Cousteau-and-Thunberg-level champion of all that is green — and Marie’s first one true love.
Could there be a murder looming?
Russell and Leduc have been at the heart of two previous remarkable murder mysteries by Quebec author Ann Lambert. They are — brace yourself — old and in love; in fact, on page 1 they’re getting married. Long-divorced, they finally found each other, Russell a college English teacher, children’s book author and environmentalist, Leduc a senior homicide investigator with the Sûreté du Québec.
Lambert, a playwright and English lit teacher at Montreal’s Dawson College, has produced her third stunning murder mystery after The Birds That Stay and The Dogs of Winter, combining terrific whodunits with subtle messages of social justice and marvellous characterization.
Sorensen and Russell were literally saving the whales when they met on a research vessel, but after a few years Magnus dumped her for Gretchen, a scientist with whom he is still partnered but who has long ago decided she’ll put up with his “flings” with younger women.
Sorensen is the dashing face of the quest to save the planet from climate change. Like Tom Cruise in Top Gun evading enemy missiles, he weaves his Zodiac as he ducks giant whalers’ water cannons, or hangs with Hollywood stars eager to bask in his glory as they reach for their chequebooks.
But he’s also an egotist, a philanderer, takes the credit for the little people who do all the work, and is quite the hypocrite — he couldn’t get everywhere without his private jets. Oh, and that pregnant young woman on staff…
The environment is front and centre in Whale Fall — who knew what devastating impact soy production is having on the Amazonian rain forest in the name of going vegetarian or, like Roméo, vegan? — but it’s not the only subtle message Lambert conveys.
Marie’s mother has dementia, though the home in which she lives pretends it isn’t warehousing her. But even an elderly woman with dementia can find love, and when two residents do a runner and get lost in the bush, Leduc is confronted with a quandary: be at his wife’s side for the frantic search, or conduct a murder investigation?
An even more subtle message: Leduc’s number two is a single mother with a toddler. She’s supposed to interview a key witness first thing, but her child throws up and can’t go to day care. How many of us have been in that predicament, with bosses who reckon that if you want to have kids, you’d better have a spouse who takes full responsibility for child-rearing?
How does Leduc respond? You’ll have to read the book.
Whale Fall is a rare reminder that just one murder is a tragedy; you don’t need bloodshed and gore and gunfire to have a crackerjack of a story.
Retired Free Press reporter Nick Martin is easy prey for any author who suggests old people are still capable of achieving good for themselves and the planet.