About Me

My photo
Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

A Darkness of the Heart by Gail Bowen

(31. – 961.) A Darkness of the Heart by Gail Bowen – The turmoil in Joanne Kilbourn Shreeve’s life from the deaths of three close friends in the The Winners’ Circle is easing when she is thrown into mental chaos by the revelation her revered father, Douglas Ellard, is not her birth father. Her birth father was family friend, Desmond Love. The revelation means her adopted daughter, Taylor, is actually her niece. 

The unknown father, mother, sibling or other relative suddenly revealed to the sleuth in crime fiction is not my favourite plot line. Too often I find it contrived. It does work well in A Darkness of the Heart. I like that Gail makes it a positive rather than shattering event. While startled, even shocked, Joanne is not traumatized.

Joanne, anxious about Taylor’s reaction, breaks the news:

Taylor put her arm around me and snuggled in. The warmth of her young body was comforting. For a few minutes, the only sounds in the room came from the traffic on the street. The air was heavy with the words my daughter and I longed to say to each other, but before we could begin, the doorbell rang. The words would have to remain unsaid. The pizza man was waiting.

As Joanne reflects on Des being her birth father – a man filled with joy – she wonders if the optimism for the future that has guided her life could have been inherited.

While relationships, as always in a Joanne Kilbourn book, are important the world of artistic creativity is at the heart of the book.

New York filmmakers have come to the soundstages of Regina to film a musical The Happiest Girl which was inspired by a painting by Des Love.

For the director, Ainsley Blair, and the screenwriter Ray Brodnitz it is a return to their hometown. They grew up in Regina and trained as dancers with Zephyr Winslow before moving to New York after high school. Just before filming is to start they perform the opening dance in a 75th birthday tribute to Zephyr. They choose “Begin the Beguine” in the style of Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell from Broadway Melody of 1940.

Gabe Vickers, the husband of Ainsley, is the aggressive producer of the film. He is justly famed for his ability to put together movies but has a darkness within that leaves Joanne uneasy.

Taylor is reflecting on her personal and artistic future. She has just finished high school and decided to take a gap year. Her immense talent and professional success are unlikely to endear her to the less skilled classmates she would encounter at art school.

For Joanne it is a worrisome time. Taylor’s mother, Sally, at 14 left for New York City with Izaak Levin, an older man, after the death of her father. They soon became lovers. While Sally produced remarkable art her personal life was chaotic and had no time for Taylor as a child. The relationship of Sally and Izaak is more complex than the evident sexual misconduct from the disparity in their ages.

Will the self-destructive natures of her mother, Sally, and her grandmother, Nina, show themselves in Taylor? While Taylor has lived in Joanne’s loving family since she was 4 and shown a maturity beyond her years Taylor is now exploring the world.

Taylor establishes a friendship with Vale Frazier, a talented 17 year old actor, has come from New York to play one of the lead roles. She has been on her own for years.

Joanne has successfully gone through three children leaving home. Yet her parental anxiety over a child become an adult is undiminished with Taylor.

In Gail’s exploration of the minds of artists I was reminded of Louise Penny looking into the psyche of artists in several of the best books of the Armand Gamache series.

Zack and Joanne are also helping their friend, Nick Kovacs, deal with a sexual assault upon his mentally challenged 14 year old daughter, Chloe. While Chloe, who has the mind of a 7 year old, appears alright her father can barely contain his rage over the unknown predator.

There are powerful moments when Joanne sees for the first time on film at 60 years old what she was like as a baby and then a toddler. The psychological impact of watching herself amidst her fathers twists at Joanne. The adult Joanne refers to Douglas as her father and Des as Des.

It is also the most complex time of the year. It is Christmas season. Parties and presents and tension mingle.

The interplay of the relatioships between friends, family and colleagues drew me swiftly through the book.

And then there is sudden unexpected death. In a book that is unflinching in addressing complicated relationships and sexual predelictions I found the solution to the death the weakest part of the book. It was a resolution that avoided consequences.

A Darkness of the Heart is an excellent book. Gail is neither predictable nor formulaic 18 books into a wonderful series. I am glad there are more Joanne Kilbourn mysteries being written.

Bowen, Gail – 2011 Questions and Answers with Gail2011 Suggestions for Gail on losing court cases; The author's website is http://www.gailbowen.com/ - (2011) Deadly Appearances; (2013) Murder at the MendelThe Wandering Soul Murders (Not reviewed); A Colder Kind of Death (Not reviewed); A Killing Spring (Not reviewed); Verdict in Blood (Not reviewed); (2000) - Burying Ariel (Second best fiction of 2000); (2002) - The Glass Coffin; (2004) - The Last Good Day; (2007) – The Endless Knot (Second Best Fiction of 2007); (2008) - The Brutal Heart; (2010) - The Nesting Dolls; (2012) - "B" is for Gail Bowen; (2012) - Kaleidoscope and Q & A on Kaleidoscope; (2013) - The Gifted and Q & A and Comparing with How the Light Gets In; (2015) - 12 Rose StreetQ & A with Gail Bowen on Writing and the Joanne Kilbourn Series; (2016) - What's Left Behind and Heritage Poultry in Saskatchewan Crime Fiction; (2017) - The Winners' Circle; (2018) - Sleuth - Gail Bowen on Writing Mysteries / Gail the Grand Master - Part I and Part II; Hardcover


  1. Oh, this does sound like a powerful book, Bill. I've always liked the way this series blends family matters with the main mystery plot. And you're right: each book offers something a little different, and that keeps the series fresh. It's true, too, that the stories don't shy away from things that are difficult. It makes them richer, I think.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the book. I think the themes in this book would interest you greatly.

  2. I love the way Gail Bowen creates such a real world with such convincing characters - sometimes I think she scarcely needs a murder. I am a little bit behind on the Joanne mysteries and must catch up: I always enjoy them so much. I wish they were better-known in the UK.

    1. Moira: I agree. This book in particular would not have needed the murder which appears long into the story.

  3. This is why I should not get behind in a series. I miss so much of what has happened. The next book of hers that I have to read is A Colder Kind of Death.

    1. TracyK: Oh my, you have a lot of books to go if you are going to catch up. The reading will be fun. I have given up on a few series as I do not know how I would catch up. An example is the V.I. Warshawski series.