Friday, March 2, 2012

A Case of You by Rick Blechta

As I've said before, I do enjoy a good mystery, and so I tend to be attracted to them when looking for Toronto books to read. I was especially excited about A Case of You because I also like Joni Mitchell, but aside from getting the song stuck in my head for a couple weeks, there wasn't really much of a connection.

A Case of You has a promising premise - a young, apparently homeless woman starts singing with a local jazz trio and is blowing the crowds away with her amazing voice. But then one day she disappears. Andy, the drummer, hires a private investigator to look into it, and starts to discover more and more strange stuff about Olivia's past - her wealthy upbringing in Manhattan, the mysterious murder of her brother, her possible escape from an upscale rehab centre - and I probably shouldn't give away any more than that.

The book follows a couple different threads. There's Andy, who mostly hangs out in Toronto, worrying. Then there's the PI, Shannon, who traces Olivia's roots to Manhattan; and Jackie, her newest recruit, who is infiltrating a rehab clinic in California. For some reason the author has chosen to write only Andy in first person POV, even though he has by far the least interesting storyline. It doesn't really hurt the story at all, but it is an odd choice.

The characters are fairly well-developed. It would have been nice to know a bit more about Olivia, besides that she was kind of strange and could sing well, but the rest of them were good. Jackie seems to have a complicated back story that I think could have either been better fleshed out or just not hinted at at all. Sometimes they used the kind of ridiculous PI talk that makes me cringe, even though a couple times the whole idea of PIs in movies and detective novels is lampshaded by various characters. It's like Blechta couldn't decide if he was being tongue-in-cheek or not.

The story is somewhat compelling, but has a disappointing - and increasingly fantastical - pay-off. Once the mystery is unraveled, the villain is predictable (it is the person everyone would immediately suspect upon hearing Olivia's back story), the scheme completely ridiculous, and the result is supposed to be kind of bittersweet, but turns out pretty cloying in the final scene between Shannon and Andy.

 I did appreciate the use of the internet in the sleuthing they do, and the mention of how much it has changed detective work, but even then it was a little archaic; would they really be printing out great piles of paper? But there were some smart touches. I liked the use of Toronto, as always - Olivia panhandling at Union station, the fictional jazz club at King and Bathurst, Andy's old home in Riverview. It was descriptive without being in your face.

Overall, however, I was disappointed with this book. I thought it had a pretty engaging premise, and good pacing, but it tried a little too hard to be exciting and forgot to be interesting. I prefer a mystery that moves more slowly and goes a little deeper - or at least has a twist or two.

Two towers out of five.

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