Reviewed by Ian Thomas Shaw
Serving Life by the late Richard King will be released on April 1, 2022 by Baraka Books. It is the third – and regrettably final – novel in the Nurse Linton/Detective Bellechasse crime series. King, the longstanding owner of Paragraphe Books in downtown Montreal and, for many years, a volunteer at Montreal Jewish General Hospital, died in early January from cancer.
Drawing on his study of policing and hospital procedures, King crafts a fascinating tale of revenge killings, family greed and unethical medical experimentation. A mysterious Dr. Hingston roams the Emergency Department of the Gursky Memorial Hospital searching for family members of dementia patients. Offering a miracle treatment for their loved ones' illness, Hingston assembles his cohort of human guinea pigs. When some of the patients die, Nurse Annie Linton becomes suspicious. Finding no hospital records for a Dr. Hingston, she sets out to find his real identity and what medicine he has been administering to his patients. She enlists the support of her boyfriend, Detective Gilles Bellechasse. Bellechasse is then assigned to investigate the murder of Dr. Marcus Tiddley, the head of a research facility affiliated with the hospital. A link between the deaths emerges, but Bellechasse’s superior wants him to wrap up the two investigations to focus on a more pressing case, random murders committed by a serial killer. Gilles is under pressure to deliver results, and he turns to Annie not only for her knowledge of medicine but also for her sharp insights into the criminal mind. Gilles, Annie and the readers follow the bewildering trail of evidence, shuffling suspicion among a number of suspects.
One of the key characteristics of good crime fiction writing is to avoid arbitrary coincidences by weaving plausibility into the déroulement of the narrative. King’s writing is deeply rooted in plausibility, so much so that it reads like true crime non-fiction. As he introduces new twists to the plot, he provides strong frameworks around them, reinforcing their believability. King also takes the reader on an interesting tour of Montreal, the city he loved so well. But Serving Life is not just about crime, it is also a tale of harmony between the two co-protagonists. While some readers might find this a little too cozy, there is a sense of comfort in following the uncomplicated romance between Annie and Gilles. In an era of daily drama involving pandemics, social unrest and international turmoil, watching two individuals quietly live their love for each other in mutual respect has a calming quality. Admittedly, much of Annie’s and Gilles’ quality time appears to revolve around sumptuous meals, so much so that food is practically a point of punctuation, but this is a minor flaw.
Hommes de Lettres, food connoisseur, bon vivant, humanitarian – Richard King will be missed by all who knew him. Montreal has lost a real Mensch.
Serving Life is published by Baraka Books.