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Revenge Finds a Home
By Bill Coultas
$21, 282 pages
As the crime novel begins, Bob Lynch is in Dublin serving with the Irish Police Force. “He was, as they say, bread and buttered in Ireland.”
But a looming newspaper report linking his brother-in-law, Michael Devine, to an IRA bombing might expose him to questions on a past case concerning the recapture of an escaped prisoner.
Anne and Michael had left Ireland for Newfoundland years before, and an offhand suggestion from a higher-up that Lynch consider doing the same takes root. Now he lives in the east end of St. John’s and is employed as a Detective Inspector with the RNC.
But actually, the story has had two prior ‘openings’: an excerpt from the memoirs of Peter Lynch, who jumped ship in Newfoundland in 1820, and a killing viewed from the perspective of a cryptic, lethal figure, both of which continue through and help frame and even propel and resolve the main narrative.
Unlikely murder victim?
Which concerns the death of John Peyton, a geology professor with Memorial University. It’s not a profession often linked to violent crime, but Peyton was unquestionably murdered by an arrow through his neck. It happened close to a popular hiking trail, near the site of Peyton’s cabin. The body was discovered by a birdwatcher; Peyton had been dead four or five days.
He wasn’t missed at work because he was presumed to be conducting some approved field work, a find which might potentially rival the Mistaken Point fossils.
Who knew his plans? Certainly several people in his department, headed by the cagey Dr. Prince. And Peyton had attended a party prior to his departure, alongside several of his students and their friends. There’d been some tension there – Peyton had a reputation, well-deserved it would turn out, for egregious racism and sexism. Could his death be some kind of reprisal?
The arrow itself is a significant clue, the unusual weapon formed with a rare stone found only in Labrador. Access to this resource is strictly monitored.
Additionally, archery itself is something of a special, even niche, skill. There is an archery club, which obviously needs to be checked out, and a highly professional competition at the nearby Eagle Ridge reserve.
Again and again, Indigenous issues and advocacy push their way to the forefront of the case. There are hotbeds of activism in different spots across North America, and further abroad. Lynch’s own nephew, Kevin, has participated in several demonstrations.
Peyton’s slaying, odd as it is, may not be a single act but part of something wider.
Indigenous peoples are actually often on Lynch’s mind. The aforementioned Paul Lynch was badly injured when fleeing from his abusive ship captain, and was helped and taken in by a group of Beothuk.
Lynch has read his memoirs, held in the National Archives of Ireland. Though the Beothuk are extinct, is there still some resonance that led he and Anne to the island that so profoundly influenced Paul Lynch?
On a more personal and contemporary level, we’re introduced to Lynch’s love interest, Karen. She’s also a police officer, with the RCMP, and they had recently met and connected at a conference in Quebec City. She’s on leave at the moment, diagnosed with PTSD after the shooting of her partner (which makes her idea of a romantic surprise somewhat jarring and unbelievably offkey … but perhaps I just don’t share her sense of humour). Lynch manages to persuade her that a visit to Newfoundland is the rest she needs. Of course, for various reasons, she is not to endanger herself by tracking down any clues in his ongoing probe – you can guess how that warning goes.
The pace of the police investigation is brisk, its progression nicely laid out and explained. (Not sure about the interrogation of a one particular suspect, which goes a little cliché re: bad cop.) Though, because author Bill Coultas has chosen to tell the story from three points-of-view, at times the reader knowns more than the investigators.
The dialogue is very expository, at times saying things that could have been shown. But it largely fits with the police methods, a cycle of giving out orders, questioning witnesses and suspects, and delivering reports.
Some of the language is a little dismissive or dated. The consistent use of “native” when “Indigenous,” for one example, would be more appropriate should, I think, have been addressed. As well, there are terms like “skirt chaser” or “tree hugger,” which can wobble the reader out of the time period. A few flaws in a well-structured debut.