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UNDER COLD STONE
by Vicki Delany
Poisoned Pen, April 2014
306 pages
$14.95
ISBN: 1464202354


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The seventh in Vicki Delany's very enjoyable Constable Molly Smith series, this outing finds Molly struggling with a frozen turkey for her and Adam Tocek's first Thanksgiving dinner while her widowed mother Lucky is in the Rocky Mountains resort town of Banff, Alberta, enjoying the sights with her companion Paul Keller. Regular readers will recall that Keller is the police chief in Trafalgar, BC, and thus is Molly Smith's boss. On the face of it, it's an odd-couple relationship, Keller a by-the-book cop, Lucky a back-to-the-earth hippie and unrepentent environmentalist. The pair are in Banff Alberta for a pleasant weekend getaway, pleasant, that is, until Lucky is bullied by Barry Caseman, a rude young local who tries to cut in line in a local café.

The event threatens to escalate into a confrontation until Caseman's friend calls him off. Later, that man is identified as Keller's estranged son, Matt. But before the chief can reunite with his son, Caseman's body is found on the floor of their shared apartment. He's been fatally stabbed, and Matt is missing, giving rise to an obvious question: is Matt a killer or a victim?

Matt's an experienced mountaineer and some of equipment is also missing. The most plausible explanation is that he's fled into the back country. As his son is at the very least a material witness to Caseman's death, Paul Keller is sidelined in the investigation. Anxious to help, Lucky contacts her daughter Molly, who abandons her Thanksgiving dinner and heads for Banff with her dog, Sylvester.

Banff is a world-class resort, featuring spectacular mountain scenery and the Banff Springs Hotel, where Paul and Lucky are staying. Beneath the surface, however, it's still got small-town problems, with seasonal staff working at minimum wage and sharing accommodation to make ends meet. There's a shadow economy as well that most tourists never see; it includes car rental agencies, dodgy repair shops, and blue-collar watering holes that cater largely to the locals. Molly learns from one of Barry's roommates that he always seemed to have extra money, raising questions about how he came by it. Sidelined in the investigation, Paul Keller asks Detective Sergeant John Winters to check Barry's records; it's not long before Winters finds that Caseman had a string of convictions for theft, sexual assault, and drunk-and-disorderlies. Unfortunately, Matt's record is also far from spotless.

Meanwhile, back in Trafalgar, John Winters has his hands full. Environmental protesters have descended on the proposed Grizzly Resort site. The company has an ambitious plan to develop a complex featuring 250 cottages on the site, plus swimming pools and restaurants, and all the other amenities that city-types vacationing in the country would not want to go without. Predictably, the plan has attracted opposition. An out-of-town activist named Robyn Winfield, with a record of stirring up trouble, has been seen in the area in the company of a man suspected of conducting a campaign of violent intimidation against tar sands workers. More than enough, then, to keep Winters busy as the authorities in Banff try to run Matt Keller to earth.

Beginning with believable characters drawn into compelling conflict, and adding personal backstories to sustain the suspense, UNDER COLD STONE is vintage Delany. She skillfully uses current issues, set against the spectacular backdrop of the Canadian Rockies, to fashion a tale that will resonate with readers in search of an intelligent story that is also simply a fine read. UNDER COLD STONE cements Delany's position as one of Canada's most talented crime writers.

§ Since 2005 Jim Napier's reviews and interviews have appeared in several Canadian newspapers and on various crime fiction and literary websites, including his own award-winning site, Deadly Diversions. He can be reached at jnapier@deadlydiversions.com

Reviewed by Jim Napier, May 2014

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