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by Barbara Fradkin
Dundurn, January 2023
318 pages
$21.99 CAD
ISBN: 1459743873

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I've long been a fan of Ottawa's own Barbara Fradkin, her popularity and acclaim testifying to her impressive skills as a seasoned storyteller. She can be counted on to set a nicely-paced, captivating plot, populated by interesting characters, against the varied settings that make up the diverse Canadian landscape. WRECK BAY is no exception, and I'm sure her many fans will be captivated by her engaging latest adventure.

In this latest saga Amanda Doucette is in Canada's westernmost province in fact, the inland coast of Vancouver Island, organising a challenging outdoor trek for mature men who are ex-addicts. The aim is to help them find themselves and expand their sense of self-reliance. Amanda travels there herself to scout out a possible itinerary and to identify guides and suppliers who can help make the journey a challenging and rewarding experience.

While visiting a coffee bar and art gallery in the town of Tofino Amanda becomes intrigued by a painting of a young woman. She wants to know more, but the woman who represents the artist tells her only that his name is Luke and that he's a recluse, not given to talking to strangers. Amanda persists and soon arranges to accompany Pim, a water-taxi driver, as he delivers a shipment of supplies destined for the isolated artist. The visit is a partial success: Luke reveals some of his past, including the fact that he'd served with the U.S army in Vietnam many years ago. In the end Luke refuses to sell her a painting. Instead he tells Amanda she can return another day and he might have a different painting for her.

But before she can return tragedy strikes the area. A party of revelers has landed on a nearby beach, and Amanda and Pim discover a damaged powerboat at the edge of the sea, not far from the trail that leads to Luke's cabin. The body of one of the revelers lies on the rocks nearby. The RCMP are contacted and respond to investigate the scene quickly. They are inclined to regard the death as an accident, but they want to interview Luke since his cabin is in the area. Amanda is concerned, given his fragile mental state; she is afraid that "Loony Luke," as he is known to the police, confronted by armed police, might go off the rails.

The police are not the only strangers in the area. Before long several other outsiders arrive, including, among others, an extremely aggressive woman named Dee Dee who has a military background herself and is searching for Luke. The net is quickly tightening around a man who has spent the best part of his life avoiding people, and it looks as though things can only end in tears.

I was somewhat dismayed when several years ago Fradkin turned from writing her Inspector Green series set in Ottawa (and which I greatly admired), to chronicle the exploits of former international aid worker Amanda Doucette who is making her way from the maritime provinces to the west coast of Canada as she struggles to redefine her life. But over the years I've been converted by the adventures of this plucky amateur sleuth and captivated by the rich backgrounds of her settings as she continues on her journey of self-discovery. Having reached the westernmost part of Canada it seems the series is destined to end here. I hope not, for it fills a much-needed void on the bookshelves of Canadian crime fiction.

In addition to being a reviewer with over six hundred reviews and interviews to his credit, Jim Napier is the acclaimed author of Legacy and Ridley's War, in the British-based Inspector Colin McDermott mystery series.

Reviewed by Jim Napier, April 2023

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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