Friday, April 12, 2013

Grave Doubts by John Moss

Mysteries! I can't get enough of them. For some reason, a disproportionate number of books set in Toronto seem to be mysteries; or perhaps it is proportionate, and the majority of all books are mysteries. Could it be? Anyway, I've got no problem with it, because it is by far my favourite genre.

Grave Doubts is part of a series of books about two Toronto detectives, Quin and Morgan. Unfortunately it is not the first book in the series, so I feel like I'm missing a bit of the backstory, but that didn't really affect my enjoyment of this one to a noticeable degree. The book opens with the discovery of two bodies entombed in the plaster of an old house, wrapped in a lovers' embrace, and missing their heads. It is mostly an ancient curiosity until it is discovered that (mild spoiler alert) the old-time-y clothing and accessories are actually an elaborate ruse, and the bodies (and therefore the murders) are pretty new. Which makes it Quin and Morgan's case.

It's kind of a police procedural, but not really, as most of the action centers on the two detectives in their down time. Quin befriends Rachel Naismith, the police officer on the scene, and the two of them strike up a strange friendship with Alexander Pope, the renovations expert called in to examine the crime scene. Morgan, meanwhile, pursues his attraction to Shelagh Hubbard, the forensic anthropologist who examined the bodies, leading me to wonder if these people meet all their friends/potential romantic partners at crime scenes, and what kind of weird consequences that would have for their lives.

The book takes place mainly in Toronto, although it also explores some unlikely parts of Ontario like Owen Sound, and Penetanguishene. The Toronto scenes name check a lot of landmarks and streets, but don't do a lot to really capture the vibe of the city. This is not the book to read if you want to get a feel for Toronto.

I did enjoy the novel a lot. The author made some interesting choices for a mystery, focusing extensively on relationships and intimacy (and I don't mean sex) and really drawing out the suspense during the climax, which lasts about four chapters. I did appreciate the abrupt ending once the mystery was resolved; I think many mystery writers succumb to the annoying cliche of over-explaining what happened, either through a villain laying out their whole plan to the hero (giving them time to be rescued) or by the hero explaining everything to their partner/police chief/spouse after the fact. Moss seems to recognize that in this particular scenario at least, once the who and the how is resolved, the why is as much speculation on the part of the detectives as it is the readers.

Guys, it's worth checking out, for sure. I really enjoyed the characters, and I would definitely read this author again.

Four CN Towers out of five.

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