Reviewed by Jim Napier
Crime fiction readers love a good series, with nuanced characters whose backstories are layered and continue to grow with each new novel. One of the best series in recent years has been Brenda Chapman's Stonechild and Rouleau mysteries. It features an indigenous police detective, Kala Stonechild, and her boss, Sergeant Jacques Rouleau, and is set in Kingston, Ontario. Over the past six novels readers have learned of Kala’s troubled past, as she moved between foster homes and tried to navigate the sometimes convoluted world of urban white people. Her life is further complicated by a close friend who is in prison; Kala is determined to help her friend’s teenaged daughter, Dawn, mature into a confident and capable young woman.
Kala finds herself at a turning point in her life, and she is weighing the possibility of leaving Kingston and returning to the more familiar northern woods, where she feels more at home. Complicating the decision is her close relationship with Gundersund, also a detective with the Kingston force. She also feels a close bond with her mentor, Staff Sergeant Jacques Rouleau, but he is considering retiring and joining his lover, Marci Stokes, as she takes up a new position in Paris. In a nutshell everyone’s life plans are in turmoil, complicating Kala’s own thought processes.
To clear her mind, and also to expose Dawn to the merits of northern life, Kala arranges for the two of them and her dog Taiku to spend a few days at Pine Hollow Lodge near Algoma. When they arrive, Dawn is attracted to the tranquility of the setting, and Kala is hopeful she can sort out her own plans for the next stage in her life. But it seems she can’t leave her job behind her, and by the next day one of the servers at the lodge, Rachel Eglan, goes missing. When her body is discovered it turns out she’d been murdered, and the nearest OPP officer, Clark Harrison, finding himself shorthanded, asks Kala to help with the case. She reluctantly agrees, influenced by the fact that the victim was close to Dawn’s age. But as she becomes further involved in the case she realizes that there are dark undercurrents of tension at the lodge, and many people may have had reasons for wanting Rachel dead. Kala’s getaway is rapidly turning into a nightmare.
It is sometimes said that setting is character, and Chapman deftly draws upon her extensive personal knowledge of Northern Ontario to set her tale. Her experience pays off in a richly atmospheric detail that convincingly portrays life in the isolated region.
But all good things must come to an end. The seventh novel of the series, Closing Time is also the last in the series, and for Chapman’s devoted readers it will be a bittersweet experience, reading the final chapter in what has proved to be one of the strongest and most interesting crime series to emerge in years. A skilled storyteller, Closing Time is a finely-drawn story, Chapman writing with an assured hand, confident that she’s nailed her subject – and she has. Closing Time is an evocative and compelling work, and a fitting end to the series; and while I regret reading the last of Stonechild and Rouleau, I look forward to the next step in Chapman’s impressive literary journey. I’m certain it will be equally special.
Closing Time is published by Dundurn Press.
Jim Napier is a novelist and 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 second in the series, Ridley’s War, is scheduled for release in November of 2020. He can be reached at jnapier@deadlydiversions.