In Regina Joanne is in the midst of a bruising political campaign over a referendum on bylaws that would restrict urban sprawl and promote mixed use developments in the city. She is leading the Yes forces against the city’s largest developer and past adversary, Lancaster Developments.
In the country the beautiful Lee Crawford is an intriguing young woman. A graduate of the College of Agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan she returned to run the family farm after her stepfather, Colin Brokenshire, was killed in a farm accident.
While it is no longer unusual for a woman to be a farmer what is unexpected is that Lee is raising heritage poultry, heirloom apples and heirloom vegetables. In particular, the poultry caught my attention - “Blue Andalusians, scarlet-combed Langshans, Swedish Flower Hens, Ridley Bronze turkeys and pink-billed Aylesbury ducks”.
Lee is also a member of the Citizens for Planned Growth Group (CPG), a collection of organizations, providing volunteers for the Yes campaign but they are a fractious group.
Within the family Joanne and her husband, Zack Shreeve, are hosting the wedding of their oldest son Peter and Maisie, the twin sister of Lee, at their cottage at Lawyers Bay. They are an optimistic family planning an outdoor wedding in May. While our province finally sheds winter and becomes green in May there is the risk of snow not just rain through the month.
Their confidence is well founded as the sun shines wedding morning but tension arises. Simon Weber, the emotionally troubled former lover of Lee, appears off shore in a yellow canoe. Constrained by a court order from coming ashore he still desperately wants to see Lee and sits there watching the festivities for over four hours.
During the wedding reception, Lee accepts the long standing proposal of her neighbour, Bobby Stevens, and Joanne ends the day happy but a little uneasy.
During the night Lee’s heritage poultry are killed. The next day emotions are roiling everywhere as accusations and denials flow back and for between the Yes and No forces.
Rumours are floated about Lee’s background. At a meeting she asks not be made the focal point of the campaign fueling more speculation. Joanne and her trusted advisor, Milo, work to dampen the fury and keep their supporters focused on the issues.
When Lee is murdered in the barn at her farm I was surprised. I did not see Lee becoming the victim. She was a fascinating character with an interesting background and future yet there are real issues in her past. It is not often an author can create such a sympathetic victim who still arouses murderous passions in other characters.
It is a book filled with emotions in and out of families past and present.
Not many mysteries discuss the impact on a woman of being the mother of young children:
The dagger nails were now short and unpolished, the flaxen hair
had returned to its natural honey blond, and these days Margot's
wardrobe was pretty much wash and wear. That morning she was
in sneakers, blue jean cutoffs, and a T-shirt that read "Childbirth:
A Labour of Love."
Bowen follows with an affectionate remark on breastfeeding.
What’s Left Behind is not one of my favourite stories in the series. The mayoral election was the focus of the previous book in the series, 12 Rose Street. I would have preferred a theme in this book other than having another political campaign, the referendum on the bylaws, but a short time after the election. Lee’s role in the referendum fight did not connect with her being a farmer and resident outside the city did not work as well for me.
What did work very well was Joanne as sleuth.
As she is neither a private investigator nor a police officer her role in investigations is always limited. What she has over the police is a better sense of the connections between the characters and their motivations.
It is not often I read mysteries solved by the sleuth’s ability to think. So many current mysteries involve the sleuth crashing around. Joanne is not cerebral in the mystery in the context of formal academics though she spent her working life as a university professor. What’s Left Behind showcases Joanne’s talents in analyzing information and understanding relationships. She has a great sensitivity to the nature of personal relationships.
And Joanne becomes a grandmother again. How many sleuths are proud grandparents?