The first of Gail Bowen’s popular Joanne Kilbourn mystery series, originally published in print in 1990 and reprinted again and again, as well as leading to a popular TV series, is now available in audio.
Andy Boychuk is a successful Saskatchewan politician - until one sweltering August afternoon when the party faithful gather at a picnic. All of the key people in Boychuk’s life - family, friends, enemies - are there. Boychuk steps up to the podium to make a speech, takes a sip of water, and drops dead.
Joanne Kilbourn, in her début as Canada’s leading amateur sleuth, is soon on the case, delving into Boychuk’s history. What she finds are a Bible college that’s too good to be true, a woman with a horrifying and secret past, and a murderer who’s about to strike again.
©1990 Gail Bowen (P)2012 Post Hypnotic Press Inc.
"Bowen has a hard eye for the way human ambition can take advantage of human gullibility." (Publishers Weekly)
"What works so well [is Bowen’s] sense of place - Regina comes to life - and her ability to inhabit the everyday life of an interesting family with wit and vigour.... Gail Bowen continues to be a very fine mystery writer, with a protagonist [listeners] can invest in for the long run." (National Post)
Narrative makes the world go round.
This is a satisfyingly slow-paced bloodless backyard listen written in the 1990s before technology necessarily started to dominate murder mysteries. The protagonist is a middle aged widow and mother, a political scientist, back room provincial politico - nothing glamorous, just smart. The setting is very Canadian prairie, but the Manitoba political system is explained well enough and doesn't get in the way. The plot doesn't turn on coincidence, and though you'll know "whodunnit" before the protagonist, it unrolls like some classic detectives in that the author wants you to be one self-satisfying step ahead of the sleuth (but not 100% sure!)
Amateur sleuth mysteries often fail because an author can't establish a valid reason why the protagonist gets involved -- so it seems like meddling. This protagonist involves herself in the murder mystery because, in her grief, she needed "to prove that life was a coherent narrative with a beginning, middle and an end." And isn't that why we read detective novels? So we enter the puzzle with her naturally. I doubt that this series can keep its grounded feel (one murder can happen in anyone 's life but how can an amateur sleuth find a dozen?) However, I hope Audible stocks many more in the series so I can find out.
I find it useful when reviewers compare a series unknown to me to a better known one . I think this is like Laura Lippman's Tess, with a similar strong sense of place but less action. It's well narrated too, in a similar style.
PS The cover art is poorly chosen - I delayed listening because I suspected yet another abusive clergy story line due to the rosary. Religion is a minor cultural element, one of the minor "appearances" to be kept up by some characters and adds local colour, but is not central.
I have a weakness for mysteries set in Canada, and so it’s surprising that I stumbled over Gail Bowen’s Saskatchewan-based Joanne Kilbourn series only now. In a way that’s an advantage because it means that I have fourteen (to date) more entries in the series to catch up on.
Up-and-coming provincial politician Andy Boychuk is about to hold a speech before party supporters. Everything has been organized in detail, and everything seems to be going well, but then his speechwriter Joanne Kilbourn watches in horror as he takes a sip from his water and drops dead. Andy was not only Joanne’s boss, however, he was also a close friend – and in the course of setting out to write his biography, she cannot help but being drawn into the mystery of who killed him and why.
„The Deadly Appearances“ was written in 1990 but apart from a few contemporary references – nobody has a cell phone, of course, and at one point, the banks being closed on a holiday presents an organisational issue in a pre-ATM world – it has held up very well.
Joanne, an academic in her mid-forties, widowed mother of three, is a likeable and realistic heroine, and her friends and family are people one would not mind having in one’s own life. Her involvement in this case did not seem overly farfetched, and I’m curious to see how Bowen will pull this off in future volumes (a slight suspension of disbelief will naturally be necessary as I doubt that the murder rate in real-life Regina would support a murder with Joanne’s involvement every couple of years or so.
I've already downloaded the next installment, Murder at the Mendel. I see that Audible also has titles 3 and 14 in the series, and I hope the missing ones inbetween will be added soon. (In the early days, Audible used to have a "request" feature but I can't seem to find that anymore.)
Interesting setting, Saskatchewan Province. I didn't know much about that part of Canada.
I also learned a bit about Canadian politics as seen by an insider.
Easy to follow mystery about the assassination of a local representative, told by his speechwriter and friend. Would read another by her, but not excited enough to do so immediately.
Good narration. Easy to follow her.
Love books! Classics and lighter fiction, mysteries (not too violent please :-). And selective non-fiction--whatever takes my fancy.
I like mysteries. I liked the sound of this one in the write up. The narration was pretty good. But after over two hours into it, I was aware that no part of me could bear to listen any longer. My husband was listening, too, and he is now fast asleep. Boring is the best thing I can come up with to say about it. In summary, it all seemed like just the sort of book I enjoy. Don't know what went wrong, but I simply did not find it even slightly interesting. Hopefully, that is only my opinion, and others will rave about it.
After 2 1/2 hrs of listening, I gave up. There was a a murder in the opening scene. Then characters were described, new ones introduced, setting established, etc. But nothing happpened, and the main character was annoyingly insensive to others and obssessed with politics. It was taking too long to get to the story and the mystery.
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