Reviewed by Jim Napier
In Spiked, author Randall Denley offers readers a political thriller wrapped up in a murder mystery and grounded in a convincing portrait of Ottawa’s nuanced and high-pressure political scene.
Kris Redner is a forty-year-old Crime columnist for the Ottawa Citizen who is apartment- and dog-sitting for a journalist friend who’s been called away on assignment. Shortly after waking up, Kris takes stock of her less-than-satisfying life while drinking a coffee on the balcony. A woman flashes by, headed for the ground six stories below. Kris looks over the edge and sees the woman’s body, impaled on a wrought-iron fence. The patrons of the nearby coffee shop sit shocked, unable to comprehend what had just taken place. Racing down to the street level she arrives to hear the woman’s dying words, “Help me.” She tries, but there is nothing to be done; the woman is beyond help.
After the first responders arrive Kris phones her city editor, who takes the details and then orders her to get over to the courthouse for the corruption trial of a prominent federal politician. A former minister of the crown, Sonny Sandhu has been charged with accepting a $25,000 bribe to help ensure the approval of a wind farm project by federal authorities. Giving evidence against him are two slimy co-conspirators, Thomas Fung and Vikram Gill. On the face of it, the case is suspicious: Sandhu didn’t need the money, and as part of a $1.5 million grant, why would his cut be so small? Kris senses that there may be more to this story, involving higher-ups in the Ottawa food chain.
Kris can’t get the dead woman out of her mind. Realizing that navigating the murky world of Ottawa politics will require the help of several friends, she turns to homicide detective Mike Reilly, but he’s reluctant to give her any inside information. It seems Mike is still hurting from a failed relationship with one of Kris’s colleagues at the newspaper, and she wonders whether this is a factor in his standoffishness. Despite the lack of help, Kris learns that the dead woman was known as Mae Wang, and that she had been a student at Carleton University. A gifted linguist, she also worked occasionally as a translator for the Chinese Embassy. Could her death be related to her work?
When she focuses on Sonny Sandhu’s corruption trial Kris approaches his wife, Gail Rakic, but she too is suspicious of the press and cynical about Kris’s motives. Stymied in all directions, Kris realizes that nothing will be easy about either of these two stories. What she doesn’t grasp is that much more than simply a good story is at stake.
Spiked is an engrossing tale of political intrigue set in the corridors of power, and centring on the death of a young woman who was not all that she seemed. Denley is a seasoned writer, and it shows: the novel is a fine political thriller and crime story, well-paced and populated by convincing characters. The dialogue is crisp, and the atmosphere believable, informed by years of experience in the Ottawa scene. All in all, this is a fine read.
Spiked 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 late summer of 2020. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org