Sunday, March 10, 2013

Forty Words for Sorrow: Giles Blunt

Description from the back cover of my paperback edition:
In the quiet Canadian town of Algonquin Bay, a frozen body has been found in an abandoned mine shaft. She is quickly identified as Katie Pine, a teenager who had disappeared months ago. At the time, Detective John Cardinal insisted that Katie was no ordinary runaway. His relentless pursuit and refusal to give up on the case got him demoted from Homicide. But now the Canadian police force wants Cardinal back on the case -- with a new associate by his side. And as these two untrusting partners gather evidence of a serial murder spree, a pair of sociopaths are closing in on their next victim...
There are two quotes on the front cover: "One of the finest crime novels I've ever read." (Jonathan Kellerman) and "The most horrifying story since The Silence of the Lambs" (Los Angeles Time). Both of these quotes are true (in my opinion) and they illustrate my problems with the novel. It was a compelling read but I often wanted to put it down and give up on it, due to the explicit nature of the descriptions of the crimes.

Likes:
All the characters were well-defined, not just the main characters. A lot of police procedurals is visiting people for interviews, and all of those people seemed real, with their own problems and lives.

I enjoyed the setting. I read this book for the Canadian Book Challenge 6. The book is set in a small community in northern Canada. The author was raised in a similar town. Per the Wikipedia article about the author:
Blunt grew up in North Bay, and Algonquin Bay is North Bay very thinly disguised — for example, Blunt retains the names of major streets and the two lakes (Trout Lake and Lake Nipissing) that the town sits between, the physical layout of the two places is the same, and he describes Algonquin Bay as being in the same geographical location as North Bay.
Dislikes:
For me, this book was much too graphic. The story is the hunt for a serial killer, and the descriptions of the crimes went into too much detail for my taste. There was one section on torture devices that I had to skip over.

Neutrals:
Here we have another policeman with angst and family issues. The portrait of John Cardinal is so good that I really did not mind. He is not really damaged, he just has made mistakes and has a lot on his mind. I actually sympathized with his family issues, and felt they made the story stronger.

I have read criticisms that this is not really a whodunnit but a "whydunnit". To a certain extent this is true, although for at least the first third of the book we do not know the identity of the culprit. However, I like whydunnit style of mystery, so that worked fine for me.

Overall:
I found this to be a very well-written novel with interesting characters, and I enjoyed most aspects of the book. I recommend it to any reader who likes serial killer thrillers and doesn't mind the graphic violence. And even if you don't usually go for that kind of book, I would give it a try. This book won the Silver Dagger awarded by the Crime Writers Association in 2001.

19 comments:

  1. TracyK: I enjoyed your review. I agree John Cardinal is a great character. Equally the graphic content is intense. It does not get less graphic in the subsequent books I read in the series. I have not read the most recent books.

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    1. Thanks, Bill. Sorry to here that the graphic content stays intense in future books, but I will try at least one more. I do like the characters a lot.

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  2. Tracy, I don't remember the last time I read a serial-killer thriller, perhaps in the last century. I don't mind a lot of violence in a book though I don't think I can stomach graphic descriptions of the murdered victim. What's the point?

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    1. Not the kind of book I would normally choose, and did not realize it going in. But a very highly recommended book. There was another series with graphic torture in it that I gave up on, but this one I will try again.

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  3. Oh dear, I don't like graphic books either Tracy. The setting is appealing, but if I have to skip many passages then it doesn't really appeal.

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    1. I agree, Sarah, the setting is appealing. And liking the main characters helped. The partner was a strong woman, in a male-dominated department. Just tone down the graphic descriptions, and it would be much better.

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  4. Tracy - Thanks for your thoughtful and detailed review. I agree with you about the violence in this novel. I have to admit I didn't like that either. But I thought the characters were excellently drawn as well. And such a great sense of place and setting!

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    1. Margot, reading this book was like setting the Walt Longmire books in a Criminal Minds episode. Three quarters of the time I loved it, the rest was uncomfortable.

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  5. Natural Causes was like that for me and I enjoyed it immensely. Not my typical fare but... This sounds good too. I'll have to look at the library for it.

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    1. Peggy, I remember your review of that book. And the comparison to Criminal Minds. I was thinking... this is just like Criminal Minds but longer ... the whole time I read the book.

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  6. This writer was recommended by a Canadian bookseller at Bouchercon talk last year. I have filed him away for future reading, but now I'm unsure if I will like any of his books. I am not a fan of over-the-top violence and torture scenes. And I have resolved to read no more contemporary serial killer books. They bore me more than they disgust me. So many are madee up of cookie cutter plots and cloned characters. I find some of the multiple murderer novels (as they used to be called in the old days) from the 20, 30s and 40s to be alternately terrifying and silly in their outrageousness. Depends on who's writing the book. The modern spins on serial killers where the emphasis is on "gritty realism" rather than fanciful murder plots seem only to exist to churn the stomach and revolt the reader.

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    1. I also would just as soon avoid serial killer plots. There is obviously a market for them. This one was very good otherwise, but from reading synopses of the future books, looks like it will be more of the same. I still want to give the series one more try... after a long rest.

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  7. I can remember thinking much the same Tracy - the violence was a bit over the top and not really necessary - the book is about much more than blood and gore.

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    1. Bernadette, I really was disappointed that it had so much violence. I like the writing a lot, but if the next book in this series is just as graphic, I probably won't continue.

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  8. Thanks for the review TracyK - like many here, while I enjoyed reading Thomas Harris et all many moons ago I'm not sure I would want to go back to that style really - no longer my cup of tea (sic)!

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    1. Sergio, not much for serial killer books myself, and some have been lingering on my shelves for a long time waiting to be sampled. I am dismayed to learn that several books I have and had been wanting to read are also about serial killers... but maybe not so graphic, I hope.

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  9. Graphic and another angsty hero, probably a skip for me at least right now.

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    1. Carol, I know what you mean. After reading this book, when I go through my books and see "serial killer" in the description, I just put them off for another few months. Can't take too much of that at one time. The writing was very good though.

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  10. Luxury and Vintage charity auction:

    Bid on lunch with award-winning author Giles Blunt; or Tea at The King Edward with Crime-author, Maureen Jennings, or lunch at the Magna Golf Club with Frank Stronach, author of “The Magna Man”.

    Auction takes place March 21-25 on eBay Canada.

    Proceeds benefit North York Women’s Shelter Capital Campaign,

    raising funds for transitional housing for women, and children, who are victims of abuse.

    Please visit http://www.luxuryandvintage.com for full list of approximately twenty items and experiences.

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