Reviewed by Bob Barclay
The first few pages of this book take the reader directly into a surprise U-turn. The story opens with undercover RCMP officer Dave Browne suddenly exposed in a circle of drug-dealing thugs headed by an oaf called Sasquatch, who proceed to threaten him, chase him, and almost end the story before it has begun, under the wheels of a Toronto streetcar. So, on first page-turning the book has all the makings of a classic big city crime novel. But, wait a minute; what’s this about a ‘fade’ that Browne seems to employ? Suddenly, this man is no ordinary cop. An element of mysticism has entered, and it is clear that Browne has a gift that makes him uniquely equipped to do undercover work. However, now that his cover has been blown, the rough streets, drug-deals and bustle of the big city make way for an abrupt segue.
Browne’s only protection is flight, so he is assigned to Kirk’s Landing, a quiet northern Manitoba mill town. Or at least, quiet in Browne’s first estimation. It is only as he works his way slowly into the ways of the townsfolk in his role of head of the RCMP detachment that its characters and complexities come into focus. There is the wood mill that provides employment for the town, the First Nations reservation that provides the employees, and there are those who service and provide for the town’s needs.
Plot threads run through Browne’s encounters: there is the mysterious death of a First Nations biologist who has discovered anomalies in the reporting of data from the mill’s outflow, which runs through the reservation. Then there is the youth graffiti activity, spurred by racism and low employment, with a fascinating subplot involving channeling the creative urge of the spray can artists. And what about all that provincial money finding its way into the operating budgets of the mill? Browne’s gift of the ‘fade’ also becomes problematic as he comes to terms with its aboriginal roots. And while all these threads intertwine, a gentle, incremental and delicately handled love affair is unfolding, weaving the strands of criminal investigation with those of intimate emotional discovery.
Dave Browne is immersed in a complex play of characters, trying to maintain his detachment (double entendre intended) while pressured to solve the town’s issues. The storyline is well handled, and while the tempo is gentle at first, it gains momentum. This is no who-dunnit; the goodies and the baddies are there right from the word go, and it’s just a matter of assembling the evidence and bringing the plot to its climax. And the climax is excellently handled; a classic crime story dénouement that neatly weaves all those plot strands together. All in all, a really good read.
Kirk's Landing is published by Deux Voiliers Publishing.