Reviewed by Ian Thomas Shaw
Richard King's latest crime novel, A Stab at Life, offers readers a fresh look at sleuthing and medical science. Set in Montreal, it also draws on that city's rich multicultural and bilingual setting.
The story opens with police officers, Gilles Bellechasse and Nicole Bélanger, trying to crack down on some small-time pot dealers in a park in Montreal's multicultural Côtes-des-Neiges neighbourhood. One of the kids pulls a gun on Gilles in a show of bravado, but quickly realizes his mistake and starts to put it down. The gun accidentally goes off, and Gilles ends up in the emergency room of nearby Gursky Memorial Hospital. Thanks to the quick thinking of triage nurse, Annie Linton, Gilles is saved from bleeding out. Once recovered and now promoted to detective in the Major Crimes Division, Gilles returns to the hospital to thank Annie, and a romantic and crime-solving partnership is born.
Crime in the park escalates to a series of stabbings. One of the gang members involved in Gilles' shooting is killed, followed by an attack on another youth and then on the wife of one of the doctors at Annie's hospital. The case becomes Gilles' big break as a rookie detective but solving the murder and attacks proves daunting. The possibility of a rival gang muscling out the small-time dealers is Gilles' first hypothesis, but gradually suspicion shifts to vigilante action. And then evidence of a deadly love affair emerges. As Annie and Gilles begin to date, she helps out Gilles in his investigation by offering key diagnostic insights to narrow in on the real reasons for the crimes.
King, who has been a volunteer at Montreal's Jewish General Hospital for many years, makes good use of his knowledge of hospital procedures to develop the plot and character of ER nurse, Annie Linton. He also excels in weaving in working-class immigrant life in Côtes-des-Neiges into his intricate plot of crime and passion. Where the novel falls somewhat short is the rather mundane romance between Gilles and Annie. The novel also suffers from a degree of indecisiveness between being a gritty or cosy crime novel. But overall, it is a good read and a solid start to a new crime series.
King is the former co-owner of Montreal's Paragraphe Bookstore and a regular CBC book columnist. A Stab at Life is his fourth novel.
A Stab at Life is published by Baraka Books.