Reviewed by Jim Napier
Ottawa’s own Barbara Fradkin has been entertaining readers with her crime writing since 2000. Her various series include eleven Inspector Green mysteries and four mysteries featuring amateur sleuth and rural handyman Cedric O’Toole.
Since 2016 yet another series has made its appearance, this one featuring former international aid worker Amanda Doucette. Fradkin cleverly crosses the Canadian landscape to showcase these tales, beginning in Newfoundland (Fire in the Stars) before moving to the Laurentian Mountains outside of Montreal (The Trickster’s Lullaby), and then moving on to Ontario’s Georgian Bay (Prisoner of Hope).
Amanda’s latest foray. The Ancient Dead, finds her in the Alberta badlands, where Todd Ellison, a photographer shooting pictures for a book, comes across human remains. They could be ancient or more recent, and the cause of death is unclear. He reports the find to the RCMP, who cordon off the site and refuse to tell him more.
Ellison is intrigued by the identity of the unearthed body, thinking that it might be useful for piquing public interest in his forthcoming book. He enlists the help of a local reporter, but before long she ends up in the local hospital, the victim of an attacker she caught ransacking her home.
Meanwhile, off on her own journey Amanda comes across a nearby derelict farmhouse; it stirs fond memories of a long-forgotten uncle who mysteriously disappeared decade earlier. She embarks on a quest to visit family members who live in the region in the hope of learning more, but all she encounters is hostility. The small rural community seems to be harbouring more than its share of secrets.
With two decades of multiple award-winning crime writing under her belt, Barbara Fradkin is a seasoned veteran, and it shows. The writing is first-rate with a puzzling plot wrapped around a flawless account of the bleak Albertan landscape. And although her story involves references to dinosaur fossils and forensics, Fradkin never allows the science to get in the way of the story. All in all it’s an informed and satisfying read that marks yet another milestone in Amanda Doucette’s compelling cross-country odyssey.
The Ancient Dead 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 novel in the series, Ridley’s War, was released in November of 2020. He can be reached at email@example.com