Vantage Point by Scott Thornley
Reviewed by Jim Napier
In 2011 Toronto-based author Scott Thornley launched his debut novel, Erasing Memory – praised by no less than Canadian literary icon Margaret Atwood. It was an impressive work, set in the fictional blue-collar town of Dundurn, Ontario, and featuring Detective Superintendent MacNeice. Both it and its sequel, The Ambitious City, signalled an intriguing new series for crime readers.
I missed the third in the series, Raw Bone, so I cannot say whether it lived up to the promise of the earlier novels. But Thornley’s fourth novel, Vantage Point, was released late last year, and I anticipated it eagerly, pleased to have a yet another series of crime stories featuring engaging characters and an intelligent plot, set in a recognizably Canadian milieu.
In Vantage Point MacNeice and his team are confronted by a series of enigmatic murders in which the victims are arranged in what are clearly intended to be artistic tableaus. The first victims, father and son, are dressed in old-fashioned nightshirts, and each has been shot twice, then arranged in an image clearly intended to suggest something—but what?
Gradually, through flashbacks including multiple points of view, the events that led up to the pair’s death are revealed; but the motive for the killings remains elusive. The elaborate staging of the deaths suggests that the murders were not an isolated incident, but marked the beginning of a series of killings that would only bring terror to the town.
They are not wrong. In the days that follow another body is discovered, also with two bullet holes in its chest; but this time the victim is wearing a donkey’s head made of papier mâché. And in case there remained any doubt, there is a signature mark at the scene, similar to one found at the scene of the earlier deaths.
While he tries to understand the homicides facing him, MacNeice has his own demons. Still mourning the death of his wife Kate from cancer a decade earlier, he struggles to define his relationship with DI Fiza Aziz. They are clearly drawn to each other, but even after so many years, MacNeice is unable to move on to enter a new relationship. And just as he tries to deal with both of these issues, he faces yet another challenge: a member of his team known for philandering has disappeared; has a jealous husband taken matters into his own hands?
On many levels, Vantage Point is a fine crime tale. The plot is layered, the characters often nuanced, and the reader empathizes with MacNeice as he tries to reconcile the demands of his job and the relationships in his personal life; yet in the end, I came away dissatisfied. My reservation is that the closing chapters of Vantage Point are unconvincing: key characters are reduced to improbably two-dimensional clichés and form a jarring note to the work as a whole. I suspect that someone in the editorial process insisted on the need for an action-thriller ending, perhaps with a view of making this a breakout novel for Thornley. Whatever the motive, the editing let this clearly talented author down, and the result is an uneven and disappointing novel.
Vantage Point is published by House of Anansi.
Jim Napier is a professional crime-fiction reviewer based in Canada. Since 2005 he has published over 600 book reviews and author interviews in several Canadian newspapers and on multiple websites. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org