I was prompted to read the full shortlist as I only recognized one of the five authors on the shortlist and had not read any of the books listed. In a post after the shortlist was announced I took a look at the Canadian fiction I had read in the past year and wondered what could have been better than The Gifted and Stranglehold.
The first book I read on the shortlist was the Presto Variations by Lee Lamothe. It was a good book and I want to read more in the series set in a fictional (clearly Detroit to me) American border city with but a river separating it from Canada. The sleuths, Ray Tate and Djuna Brown, are intriguing unconventional police detectives.
The second was Walls of a Mind by John Brooke featuring French Chief Inspector Aliette Nouvelle. The book was set in the Midi of southern France. I found most interesting the interaction between the Chief Inspector and Agent Margot Tessier from the French Internal Secret Service (the DST). Nouvelle and Tessier clash constantly. I had not realized the power of the DST in contemporary France. They have unlimited power and need not to co-operate with the local police.
The most unique aspect of the book was Nouvelle being the first female sleuth of my mystery reading career to casually sun tan at the beach while topless.
Learning of the Nouvelle series through the nomination of Walls of a Mind was my find of the quintet. I will definitely read more in the series.
The third book I read was Miss Montreal by Howard Shrier. I had previously read two books in the Jonah Geller series and was not sure I would read another because of what I felt was excessive violence.
I was glad I read Miss Montreal. The violence quotient decreased and the plot was complex and interesting.
Not many mysteries tackle the intersection of the Jewish community in Montreal with Afghani immigrants and the proudly French descendants from Quebec’s earliest settlers. Shrier adds to the mix by going back several decades to the difficult relationships between Jewish Quebeckers and French Quebecois.
A reader will gain understanding of the dynamics of Quebec society as well as reading an excellent mystery.
The fourth was An Inquiry Into Love and Death by Simone St. James and it challenged me as a work of romantic suspense. It is a sub-genre into which I rarely venture in my reading. When ghosts are added in I have even greater difficulty being objective.
Set during the 1920’s on the west coast of England the lovely young Jillian Leigh and the handsome Inspector Drew Merriken investigate the death of her Uncle Toby, a well known ghost hunter.
It is well written. I believe lovers of romantic suspense will enjoy the book.
The fifth was The Devil’s Making by Seán Haldane. In the late 1860’s newly graduated British lawyer, Chad Hobbes, sails to Victoria, British Columbia to make his way in the New World.
It is another book of interacting, sometimes clashing, cultures. The Victorian English newcomers uncomfortably deal with the Indian peoples of the West Coast, many of whom are still living a traditional lifestyle. The Victorians relate little better to the Americans who have also come to Victoria.
After considering the shortlist I would rank them:
1.) The Devil’s Making by Seán Haldane;
2.) Miss Montreal by Howard Shrier;
3.) Walls of a Mind by John Brooke;
4.) The Presto Variations by Lee Lamothe; and,
5.) An Inquiry Into Love and Death by Simone St. James.
I happen to agree with the judges who chose The Devil’s Making as the winner of the Award. I appreciated its combination of history, culture and personalities. While Miss Montreal explores the same themes I thought they were done better in The Devil’s Making. Haldane did well in exploring a relationship between a white Englishman and an Indian woman while credibly working their relationship into the mystery.
I had thought about saying whether I would have replaced any of the shortlist with books I had read but decided not to at least this year. I am wrestling with whether it is unfair to say whether I would have chosen other books for the shortlist when I am not a judge and do not have time to read the long list. I am glad I read the shortlist and plan to do it again next year.