A Great Crime Novel Recommendation

12RoseStreetThis recommendation comes from Bill Selnes, who blogs at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan.

It is July and, though I am very late in the month, July gives me the opportunity to recommend a book I read in the last year that I believe the late Maxine Clarke would have enjoyed. Last year Margot Kinberg from the terrific Confessions of a Mystery Novelist and I wanted to keep the Petrona Remembered blog fresh with new book reviews. We invited bloggers to nominate a book they think Maxine would have enjoyed. A selection of fine books were recommended over the year.

Last July I recommended a thriller, The Ascendant by Drew Chapman. This July I look to a book, 12 Rose Street, from one of my favourite authors, Gail Bowen. That the book is set in Saskatchewan only 300 km south of me is an added bonus.

While Maxine prized good writing she appreciated a book that looked to address a contemporary issue. 12 Rose Street is focused on a municipal election for mayor featuring a progressive candidate, Joanne’s husband, versus an establishment man, Scott Ridgeway. It also challenges the assumptions of the financially comfortable who want to help the least advantaged.

I am confident Maxine would have enjoyed the newest book in the Joanne Kilbourn series because she enjoyed the first three books in the series. She described the first, Deadly Appearances, as engaging. After reading the third book she planned to read more of the series.

Writing this post reminds me how much I miss Maxine.

My review is:

12 Rose Street by Gail Bowen

Joanne Kilbourn returns to her political roots in the 15th book of the series. Her husband, Zack Shreeve, is running for mayor of Regina and is in an uphill battle against the incumbent mayor, Scott Ridgeway, a favourite of the developers and business community.

In the first book of the series Joanne had been at a summer political rally for Andy Boychuk, a former Premier of Saskatchewan, when he was poisoned. Her deceased husband had been a cabinet minister. While the provincial party is never exactly stated Joanne is well left of centre in her politics. She had been an eager and active participant in provincial politics including elections.

Now Zack has chosen her to be his campaign manager and she is savouring the chance to challenge the conservative establishment a generation after Boychuk’s death.

In an effort to build momentum a slate of “progressive” candidates for City Council has been assembled. Leading this group is Brock Poitras, the aboriginal gay former Saskatchewan Roughrider player (Canadian football), who has been working with Zack on community development.

Joanne draws in her old political mentor and ex-Premier, Howard Dowhanuik. Long retired and living a quiet life Howard is energized by being involved again in an election.

The campaign is fiercely contested. It turns nasty as the book opens with a threat of child abduction at a social event for Zack’s campaign. The information comes from an unlikely source. Cronus, a former criminal client of Zack, is a slumlord operating by the principle of “maximum income, minimum maintenance”. He is also fond of rough sex with consensual partners.

Joanne pleads with Cronus to do anything he can to prevent an abduction. He sends a text message to an unknown recipient from his phone. It is composed of a few numbers and an attached photo of himself standing between Zack and Brock. No child is taken.

A couple of days later Cronus is brutally murdered. In her usual quiet way Joanne tries to figure out what happened.

As the bitter campaign continues attack ads are run on T.V. against Zack. They feature Zack and former criminal clients who were acquitted at trial and then committed further crimes. (For American readers think of Michael Dukakis and Willie Horton.)

Joanne knows Zack cannot maintain a lofty indifference to the attacks. With the aid of a skilled hired political operative she counter-attacks. Joanne has an aggressive aspect to her personality seldom seen in the series. She is fierce in defending Zack and embraces going on the offensive.

As a part of the campaign battles Joanne and her family face a stunning revelation that left me shocked for a moment. It is credible and leaves them reeling. How Joanne copes shows the depths of her character. Few authors can bring forward a compelling personal story 15 books into the series that deeply affects each of the major characters and how they view their lives over the past 25 years.

While Joanne is deeply involved in the election there is time in the story, as in real life, for personal life. One of her best friends is coping with the death of a daughter at 38 from pancreatic cancer.

I always admire how Gail works into every book a development in the lives of Joanne’s family that shows how children and grandchildren are maturing in their lives. In 12 Rose Street it is Joanne’s step-daughter Taylor, approaching 16, who has begun a dating relationship with 18 year old Declan. Gail delicately handles the emotions of first love.

12 Rose Street does focus on Joanne. The previous book, The Gifted, concentrated on the artistically gifted Taylor. This book is about Joanne with Zack having a major role.

Adding to the story are social issues. Few mysteries address the dynamics of the interactions between the well intentioned well-to-do (Joanne and Zack) and the desperately poor and struggling residents of a rough neighbourhood.

12 Rose Street is a good mystery with a striking personal revelation and a challenging look at important social issues. Last, but not least the election has set up further story lines for future books. Joanne Kilbourn is never going to spend her retirement sitting at home in her rocking chair. The series remains strong.

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