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)
trying to see the world with my ears
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.
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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