Friday, April 10, 2015

Turncoat by Don Gutteridge

This novel was rather erroneously included on my list of books set in Toronto; it is only the first chapter that takes place here. The rest of the story takes place in a very small community between Toronto and Cobourg. But, you know, I read the damn thing, so here's my review regardless.

The story follows Marc Edwards, a young soldier in what was then 'Upper Canada', in 1836. Marc is keen for action but things were pretty slow in Toronto back then. Fortunately, through family connections he is selected by the Lieutenant-Governor to solve the politically delicate death of an undercover government informant in a small community outside of Toronto.

The story is full of intrigue and smuggling, and illicit affairs and dodgy characters. Marc is not infused with a lot of personality, but there are some notable characters who flesh out the story a bit. The little town it's set in has lots of appropriately 1830s-ish folks with names like Erastus and Philander, who all have something to hide - some nefarious, most just sneaky. And there's sexy ladies who may have something to do with the murder but may not, you know how those sexy ladies can be.

All the ingredients were there for a story I would enjoy, even though historical fiction is not always my favourite. However, this book just never managed to grab my attention. The mystery wasn't mysterious enough - I didn't guess who did it, but I didn't care, either. The romantic subplot lacked chemistry, and was unceremoniously dropped at the end. And the constant name-checking of different factions of the political conflict, with no attempt to explain what they were and how they related to each other, was very confusing and alienating.

I think if you are a big Canadian history buff you might get a kick out of this novel, but even then the writing doesn't really hold up. I will read any genre if the writing is good enough. If you write a mystery that can't hold my interest, you need to write better. I wanted very much to like this book but I was glad when I finished it.

I think the writer has good ideas, a good premise and a feel for comedic timing. However, I think there is a trick to writing that elicits feeling from the reader, and this writer has not yet mastered it.

Two CN Towers out of five.

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