February 11, 2007

BOOKS: By the Time You Read This, Giles Blunt (2006)

Fourth in Blunt's mystery series set in the small Canadian city of Algonquin Bay.

The Toronto Sex Crimes Unit has sent a group of photographs to Algonquin Bay; they're child pornography, and Toronto believes that the pictures may have been taken in or near Algonquin Bay. Lise Delorme is working on the case, without the assistance of her partner, John Cardinal, who is on leave after the death of his wife (which is revealed at the end of the first chapter, so let's have no grumbling about spoilers).

All of the evidence indicates that Catherine has committed suicide -- she's always struggled with bipolar disorder and depression, and there's a hand-written suicide note at the scene -- but Cardinal is convinced that Catherine, who was in a relatively stable and optimistic phase, would not have killed herself, and sets out on his own highly unofficial investigation to find out what really happened.

Cardinal is right, of course; it wouldn't be much of a crime novel if he weren't. And it's also par for the course that the two apparently disconnected cases are actually related. Blunt does a nice job with this aspect of things, and once we've figured out who the principal villain is, the connection between Delorme's child pornography and Catherine's death is credible, and not so tight as to be silly.

Blunt is always good at creating memorable villains with plausible motivations, and this book is no exception. The moment when we realize the precise nature of the evil at hand is one of the creepiest, most chilling things I've read in a long time, and it's made more so by the realization that it will be a challenging thing to prove or to punish through the legal system.

Hanging over the novel, of course, is Cardinal's grief at the loss of his wife, and Blunt gives us a superb portrait of a man so deeply wounded that even he finds himself questioning his own instincts as a policeman.

The book stands on its own perfectly well, but the death of Catherine will surely have more emotional resonance for those who've read the earlier volumes (Forty Words for Sorrow; The Delicate Storm; Black Fly Season), and they are all worth reading.

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