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by Gail Bowen
McClelland & Stewart, September 1998
264 pages
ISBN: 0771014864

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I would very much like to have dinner with Joanne Kilbourn and her family. The protagonist of Gail Bowen's series is surrounded by interesting people, has raised some wonderful kids (this from the curmudgeon of the crowd when it comes to children) and is caring, intelligent and enjoys her home life as much as her professional life as a professor of political science at a Saskatchewan university.

A Killing Spring begins with the death of Reed Gallagher, who is found hanging in a rooming house, dressed in women's lingerie. Alex Kequahtooway, Joanne's lover and a constable asks her help in breaking the news to Julie Gallagher, just recently married to Reed. Julie is a brittle, rude, snappish woman whom Joanne has know for years - but no one should get this news without some support.

Entwined with this murder is the complication presented by student Kellee Savage. She is being harassed, she claims, and Joanne has somewhat of a difficult time believing it, when Kellee claims her harrasser is a popular, successful fellow student. Kellee is an obnoxious woman, given to pronouncements about how everyone will be sorry, and she'll get them. When she essentially disappears, Joanne realizes something is truly wrong. She tracks down Kellee's friend Neil, whom she has known for years. They always spoke, and Kellee went home frequently to visit. Neil has Down Syndrome, and Bowen depicts him well and cleanly, with no touch of fancy or pity - something I'm very sensitive to. Many writers offer characters with disabling conditions and do a lousy job; Bowen's portrayal of Neil is excellent, and knowing that the annoying Kellee had a good friend in this young man made me see her differently.

One thing I like very much about this book is that the suspense about what happened, and about many of the people involved deepens. It's not over with the death and the rest of the book is simply solving the single crime. More things happen, many people are not what they seem and Bowen skillfully weaves the threads into the narrative. Kilbourn's relationship with Alex takes a steep dive in this story, a part of the narrative that saddened me, is it involved issues of racism; Alex is a native, and Joanne acts badly at the behavior of some asinine guys in a truck one night when they yell out the window. Alex has been expecting it, and while their connection is strong, the two are apart for much of the book.

Some good things do happen in this story to balance some of the sadness, as well, of course as the killing. Julie responds to Joanne's rather calm acceptance of her bitchiness eventually and starts trying to come back to the person she once was. Another of Joanne's friends, who is besotted with a man Joanne detests, comes to her senses after some rather nasty events occur - and the man is put in his place, publicly, which led me to cheer.

A totally endearing character in this story is Taylor, Joanne's daughter. She was adopted by Joanne when her mother, artist Sally Love died, and while she is only five, Taylor is a talented, precocious and totally fascinating child. In a wonderful scene where Taylor and Joanne visit friends for dinner - her colleague Barry and his partner Ed --Taylor is taken into a room to see one of her mother's paintings. The interplay between the friends, Joanne and Taylor is beautifully portrayed. Taylor's gifts and precocity make me want to spend far more time with her. Another pleasant surprise is Joanne's student Jumbo Hryniuk who is not the jock with no brain he would seem to be, but is given to sensitive insights and shows that despite his nickname, there's more to this student that strength.

On finishing A Killing Spring, I immediately made a note to find other books by Bowen; I've been missing a good writer.

Reviewed by Andi Shechter, March 2000

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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