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Review: Brenda Chapman's Shallow End, R.M. Greenaway's Undertow and Yrsa Sigurdardottir's The Legacy

Shallow End

By Brenda Chapman, Dundurn, 377 pages, $14.99

Cold Mourning, Brenda Chapman's first novel featuring detectives Stonechild and Rouleau, was nominated for an Arthur Ellis Award in 2015. This sequel shows that the jury was prescient. Shallow End is an excellent psychological thriller with a driven protagonist and a pair of good detectives digging into a very complex plot. Jane Thompson is an ex-con. Once, she was a very ordinary English teacher, mother and wife. Now, all that's gone. She's a convicted child predator out on parole. But Jane has a plan and she takes a seedy low-wage job and moves into student housing to carry it out. One month later, a young woman's body is found on the shore of Lake Ontario. The dead girl is the person who accused Jane and, in the process, destroyed her life. Officers Stonechild and Gundersund are assigned to the case by Rouleau. It seems very clear that Jane has taken revenge on her accuser, but Stonechild thinks there's more to the case. I see more Stonechild and Rouleau to come.

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Undertow

By R.M. Greenaway, Dundurn, 424 pages, $17.99

In R.M. Greenaway's second B.C. Blues novel – a sequel to her excellent first novel, Cold Girl – RCMP Constable Cal Dion returns to investigate a haunting cold case and a series of crimes that seem completely unconnected. Along with Dion, who returns to Vancouver after a year away, we have the newly arrived Constable Dave Leith in his first big city post. The dead Jane Doe, washed up in the Neptune shipyard, was Dion's last case before he left town. He returns to find it unsolved. No clues, no names, no nothing. But Jane Doe takes a back seat to a young electrician, brutally beaten. When someone tracks down the electrician's wife and child for murder, it's a pure case of overkill. Who could hate that much? And why? There are cryptic clues that no one can decipher. Then a wealthy nightclub owner is battered and suffocated in his own garage. Home invasion? Or did a business partner decide to kill off the boss? There's no shortage of suspects as the North Vancouver General Investigations Section takes charge. Welcome back, Constable Dion.

The Legacy

By Yrsa Sigurdardottir, translated by Victoria Cribb, Hodder & Stoughton, 455 pages, $32.99

Legacies come in many guises, only one of which is money. That's the subplot of this brilliant Nordic-noir novel by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, best known for her excellent Thora Gudmunsdottir legal thrillers. The Legacy starts a new series that's been dubbed The Children's House and, unlike most Nordic mysteries, the natural setting plays no part in this story. This is about children, families and the people who abuse, neglect and destroy them, and the rot that moves from generation to generation. The story begins in 1987 when three children are sent to an orphanage. The decision is made to separate the trio, horrible as this is, in order to place them in "good" homes. That act sets up a future series of events that culminate in a truly horrific series of murders. Prepare yourself for a new use for the vacuum cleaner. Sigurdardottir also introduces a new group of detectives, led by Huldar. It's rare for me to say that a 455 page novel doesn't suffer from bloat but this one doesn't. The solid characters and great complex plot need every line. If you haven't already met The Queen of Icelandic Crime Fiction start here, because this is her best novel to date.

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