Reviewed by Wendy Hawkin
What do you get when you cross an emergency-room doctor with an award-winning novelist? An insanely-twisted thriller that’s more connected than the vascular system.
White Lightning is book nine in the Hope Sze medical thriller series but reads like a standalone. It was my first Yi read but won’t be my last. The premise is simple—the complications are not.
Think of small things that pack a punch, and you’ve got Dr. Sze. Self-described as “five foot two and a quarter because of her ‘Asian genes’,” Hope is anything but diminutive. (And I have to wonder how much of Melissa Yi runs through the fictional veins of Hope Sze). She refers to herself as an “idiot savant sleuth” and definitely shows off her skills in this story.
When Hope and fellow doctors, Tori Yamamoto and John Tucker, take a weekend away from interning in Montreal, Hope’s platinum-haired fiancé, Tucker, insists they stay at the Rumrunner’s Rest, a historic inn in Windsor, Ontario. The Detroit River was once known as “Hooch Highway” as opportunists took to transporting alcohol across it from Canada into the United States during American Prohibition.
Right from page one, we know something’s up when the pragmatic Tori sees a ghost.
I love blended genres and that’s what’s brewing here—a murder mystery/thriller, with a dash of history, and a supernatural twist. Oh, and spiked with Rogue Con – a motley collection of theatrical villains, a stalker, the appearance of Hope’s recent ex-boyfriend (whom she still loves) AND the gruesome discovery of bones in the basement chimney.
But it’s not all fun and games.
Interwoven into the narrative is the story of orphan Edwin Jenkins, a six-year-old English chimney sweep, forced into servitude and early death. Edwin’s tragic tale is one of horror and exploitation. Later that theme replays with the introduction of a teen prostitute from Rogue Con.
Yi is a witty, playful writer who doesn’t shy away from spiking the text with expletives, sexy innuendos, and shots of pop culture. Her reactions to seeing her ex-boyfriend, in the basement at the unveiling of the mysterious bones, are priceless; in fact, the whole scene, wild rogues and all, is a comic tour-de-force. Twisted riddles on the title, White Lightning, are endless (I’ll let you sleuth them out) and the connections make for a meticulous mind-map. We even read a first-person interview with the original White Lightning who worked with the infamous Al Capone.
Technically the works of a medical crime writer, Yi’s Hope Sze thrillers have been recommended by The Globe and Mail, CBC Books, and The Next Chapter as some of the best Canadian suspense novels.
In this high voltage thriller, Yi weaves a tragic tapestry of exploitation, murder, mayhem, and revenge, spiked with comic relief. Don’t miss it.
White Lightning is published by Windtree Press.