Reviewed by Jim Napier
Grand Bank is a small village located on the south coast of Newfoundland. Like all such communities on the island, it has strong ties to the sea and fishing. And also like the other villages and small towns, it is changing, experiencing crimes that locals haven’t often seen in their communities, including drugs and murder. The shift threatens Newfoundland’s traditional ways, a lifestyle that attracted Windflower to the province in the first place.
Originally from Alberta, Sergeant Winston Windflower is the ranking officer in the RCMP detachment based in Grand Bank. It is a small posting, with a handful of junior officers and one civilian staff member, all of whom have formed tight bonds, both among themselves and with the community. But lately, those bonds have become stressed: a recently-appointed senior officer in Marystown, Acting Inspector Richard Raymond, is ruling with a heavy hand. Constable Carrie Evanchuk has complained privately to Windflower that Raymond has bullied her, and it’s not long before other, even more disturbing, allegations surface. Things come to a boil when Evanchuk’s fiancée, Corporal Eddiie Tizzard, physically attacks the senior officer. Normally a career-ending move, Windflower must find a way to ensure that justice is done while ensuring that any collateral damage is kept to a minimum.
Meanwhile, life goes on. Windflower is out walking with his dog Lady on the edge of town when he – or rather his dog – makes a gruesome discovery: a body, frozen and matted with blood, has been wrapped up in an old carpet and buried in the bush. Before the victim can be thawed and identified, another incident occurs just outside the village, a hit-and-run that leaves a woman badly injured and in hospital. It is not long before other events call on Windflower’s investigative powers: a body is found in a nearly-abandoned trailer in the woods, and a house in the village goes up in flames, looking all the world like an intentional blaze started to conceal some crucial evidence. For a small village on the fringe of the island, Grand Bank seems to have become a veritable hotbed of criminal activity. And faced with the prospect of substantial repairs needed to his fledgling B&B business, Windflower is forced to consider whether he wants to remains in the RCMP or retire and focus his time on the B&B and his much-loved family.
Windflower is of First Nations heritage, and frequently draws upon his native cultural practices, such as smudging and interpreting his dreams, to make sense of the events occurring in his life. Frequently these bring clarity to the chaos, but only after he has come to appreciate the larger significance of the details. This process helps the reader to gain an appreciation of an often-neglected dimension of Windflower’s nuanced personality. Before the tale has ended Windflower must situate himself in the complex world in which he lives, and come to terms with its varied, often conflicting, forces. It forms an added dimension to author Mike Martin’s layered and insightful narrative of life in rural Newfoundland, one that his many readers have come to appreciate.
Like its setting, Fire, Fog and Water is deceptive: on one level it is a revealing tale of crime and violence with all too familiar patterns found in big cities; on another, more personal level, it is the story of a man—and those close to him—faced with the pull of conflicting pressures, and struggling to deal with them in a way that takes into account the concerns of others and also allows him to be at peace with himself. This is surely a story that will appeal to readers who find themselves in similar situations. A good read, then, for our complex and troubled times.
Fire, Fog and Water 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 the summer of 2020. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org