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Bookends: A Murder Trail Leads from Toronto to Baffin Island August 2, 2012

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: A Murder Trail Leads from Toronto to Baffin Island
By Dan Davidson
May 9, 2012
– 848 words –

Arctic Blue Death
By R.J Harlick
Rendezvous Crime
351 pages
$16.95

Arctic Blue Death is the fourth in the Meg Harris series of mysteries. Meg is a single middle aged lady with relationship and drinking issues who lives in a century old Victorian cottage on an estate called Three Deer Point near Echo Lake in what she refers to as Quebec’s northern wilderness. Since her legal eagle sister, the judge, is able to drive there in her Jaguar, it can’t be that far north, but let that go. After all, people in Toronto think North Bay is a northern town.
The reason Jean is visiting Meg is that her mother has received some disquieting letters and prints that seem to suggest her husband, Sutton, might not have died when his plane crashed somewhere near Iqaluit (or Frobisher Bay, as it was known then) many decades earlier.
I haven’t read the first three books, all of which have colours in their titles, but there’s enough back story here to tell me that Meg is something of a hermit. She’s recovering from a bad marriage, which may have brought on the drinking problem. She doesn’t really get along with her upper crust Toronto family, all of whom seem to be very concerned about keeping up appearances. She has had something of an unsuccessful fling with a local first nations leader named Eric, whom we don’t actually meet in this book. She has a dog, which she loves, and a cordial relationship with a local native boy.
Somewhere along the way she’s become the local equivalent of Miss Marple, solving mysteries when they crop up.
The mail her mother has been receiving has contained a series of notes and a sequence of Inuit style prints that seem to depict the crashing of Sutton’s plane and a man floating down on a parachute. The brief notes seem to imply that Sutton survived the crash. If so, why did he never come back 36 years ago? The art is distinctive and, with the help of some specialists, Meg traces it to an area between Iqaluit and Pangnirtung, on Baffin Island.
There is much back and forth in the family about whether she should go there. Jean initially nags her to do it, but pulls back when it appears that it might tarnish her image. When one of the art dealers Meg consults is murdered, and some art connected to the mystery is stolen, the family is even less inclined to have her involved. This see-saws back and forth for a bit and then ends up with her heading off to Baffin Island, where it’s hardly any time at all before there’s another murder apparently connected to the art scene.
It all may be intimately connected to the Harris family as well, for one interpretation of the clues piling up is that Sutton did survive the crash and stayed in the north to live off the land and foster a new family with a local woman, probably the one that rescued him after the crash.
This may all have been prompted by his awareness that his wife and his brother had been carrying on a clandestine affair for some years during his frequent absences on art buying trips to the North. Later on they got married. Meg had not known this until she found a letter between the two lovers tucked in among some boxes in the attic at the family mansion.
Meg’s poking around on Baffin Island lands her and Apphia, the Inuit woman she comes to believe is her half-sister, into a great deal of trouble. They accidently stumble onto a ring that has been forging Inuit art for decades, a gang of nasty people who are quite willing to kill – and have already killed – to keep their secret.
Harlick, who is based on Ottawa, spent a week in the North researching settings for this book, and her afterword indicates that she enjoyed both Iqaluit and Pangnirtung more than Meg did. Her narrator is, after all, a somewhat depressed person who balances on the verge of relapsing into active alcoholism about once a chapter. She has a lot of unresolved issues echoing in her brain and it’s as much sheer luck as any investigative brilliance on her part that leads her to any solutions.
On the other, the “poke around and see what responds” method is a fairly common mystery novel staple. It’s Spenser’s main trick, after all.
The cover, which is an actual shot of a Baffin Island graveyard, puzzled me. There is a graveyard scene in the book, but something depicting Inuit art would have made more sense. I also searched in vain for any reference to Arctic blue death in the book. If it’s there I missed it.
These are minor quibbles, however. The story is enjoyable and the narrator engaging enough that I feel safe in saying that those who love a Northern flavoured mystery will enjoy it.

-30-

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