Reviewed by Jim Napier
Ottawa-based Mike Martin can be considered the Norman Rockwell of maritime Canadian crime fiction. For those who have not previously encountered his work, his protagonist, Sergeant Winston Windflower, is a Métis native originally from the Saskatchewan prairies, now stationed in a rural community on the Burin Peninsula, along the southern coast of Newfoundland. His wife, Sheila Hillier, is the town’s mayoress; and together they are adjusting to life with their newborn daughter, Amelia Louise and their collie, Lady. Windflower heads the Grand Bank detachment of the RCMP, and is, with a handful of other officers, responsible for policing the surrounding region.
In recent months the peninsula has been experiencing an unusual spate of break-ins, ten in Grand Bank alone. But today his attention is focused on local teenager Levi Parsons, who recently attempted suicide. His father, Jeremiah Parsons, is known to be a severe man with a strong religious bent, and difficult to get along with. A strict disciplinarian, he attributes Levi’s problems to the use of drugs and his “heathen” friends; his solution is recourse to a switch, and his wife Charlene struggles to mediate between her husband and her son.
Windflower is a compassionate man by nature, and this problem preoccupies him; but as if he didn’t have enough on his plate, Windflower and his wife are also planning to open their home as a B&B.
In a small town, crimes sometimes come to light in unexpected ways. When a cat is reported crying in a seemingly abandoned house, one of the constables investigates. No one is around, and the only sign of life is a sign in the window advertising computer repairs. But in Grand Bank, there are few secrets, and a constable checks the place out. What he finds will force the detachment to expand their horizons beyond their small, isolated town.
Mike Martin hails from the region he writes about, and his strong narrative voice perfectly captures the measured lifestyle of maritime fishing communities. His stories can be described as cozies, in that any mention of violence and gore is kept to a minimum; but he manages to give his readers all that they are looking for: a believable crime tale, set against a portrait of village life that is a welcome alternative to the big-city, gritty crime dramas that dominate the genre. Darkest Before the Dawn will appeal to readers in search of crime novels about ordinary people living in a gentler, and in many ways more appealing, way.
Darkest Before the Dawn is published by Ottawa Press and Publishing.
Jim Napier is a professional crime-fiction reviewer based in Canada. Since 2005 his book reviews and author interviews have been featured in several Canadian newspapers and on multiple websites. His crime novel Legacy was published in April of 2017, and the next in the series, Ridley’s War, is scheduled for release in 2019. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org