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by Phyllis Smallman
TouchWood Editions, September 2013
240 pages
ISBN: 1771510307

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The book starts thrillingly with Singer, an old homeless hippie who lives in a battered van and survives by busking from city to city, enshrouded in a thick fog, trying to find a house at the top of a remote mountain. At several moments in the story, we find her battling with the elements. Those descriptions and the whole setting are in themselves worth the detour. The reader is truly transported to the Pacific Northwest and its wilderness.

Intent on revenge for wrongs committed twenty years earlier - the story is set in 1994 - she arrives on Glenphiddie Island near Vancouver BC, only to find the object of her wrath has been recently murdered. She forms an alliance with the widow, each providing an alibi for the other. We learn that Singer briefly sang in the 60's with a band called Vortex and that while with them, her roadie lover disappeared. The murdered man was the leader of that now defunct band and the other members all live on the mountain. It soon becomes clear that the killer is still on the island as a few attempts are made on Singer's life. The cause of these aggressions are slowly and cleverly revealed to us, up to a satisfying ending.

On the whole, this mystery is a very good beginning to a new series. Singer, inscrutable and secretive at first, slowly blossoms and becomes both interesting and endearing. The other characters are not as well defined but they are different enough that we can tell them apart. There is something of a feud between Corporal Duncan, a native of the island. who is the primary on the case and her boss Sgt Louis Wilmot, who's been more or less exiled to the island and is eager to get back to the city. It does not however tower over the story and there is a truce that develops between them.

In the minus column, there is a touch of energizer bunny in Singer. She springs back to life way too fast after being badly hurt falling off the mountain. The reader also has to accept the premise that the two women who have just met will bond together throughout the book despite doubts about each other's innocence. If you can accept that bond between two strangers, you will be able to enjoy the story and it is worth it. A big caveat for those who are allergic to violence to animals. You might be edgy at times. I was tempted to stop reading at one point, since I felt the message could have been transmitted in other ways and that this brief but disturbing element could have been avoided. I was glad however that I kept on despite being uncomfortable. I would also have left off the last paragraph which came out of left field. It felt tacked on, the more so because it followed a sort of Pygmalion scene where the heroine goes from frumpy to stunning.

However, the positive elements outweigh the negative and I will gladly read the second installment in the series. I urge readers who enjoy a good whodunit to try this first outing for Singer Brown.

Nicole Leclerc is a native Montrealer, avid reader, long time reviewer and moderator of the 4MA online discussion group.

Reviewed by Nicole Leclerc, September 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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