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by Lou Allin
Rendezvous Press, October 2003
273 pages
ISBN: 1894917049

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Belle Palmer is a middle-aged realtor in northern Ontario who has inherited her uncle's real estate firm but is having trouble making ends meet. When our story opens, her office assistant, Miriam, has fallen for a new guy, the improbably named Melibee Elphinstone, and Belle has invited them to dinner so that she can meet him.

When Miriam and Melibee fail to show up appointed hour Belle is miffed, but a hysterical call from Miriam asking Belle to come to the boyfriend's penthouse provides the explanation for their absence. It turns out that Melibee has been murdered and Miriam's prints are all over the murder weapon.

In order to protect Miriam, Belle begins to look into the murder and finds that Melibee has swindled dozens of older people, leaving behind him a trail of busted bank accounts and hard feelings. Lots of people have a motive for killing Melibee, but none seem more likely to have killed him than Miriam. In the meantime, as she cashes around Ontario in search of clues, Belle has herself become the target of some scary vandalism, which she attributes to a spurned suitor.

As the story progresses, Belle chases the clues straight to the real killer, whom she is forced confront if she is to save her friend. The climax takes place in a bitter winter snowstorm and dog lovers will happily note that a poodle plays a pivotal role in Belle's survival.

Allin has created an engaging protagonist in Belle, and she has portrayed the treacherous Ontario winter with enough realism to make you pull a quilt around your shoulders as you read this story. The supporting characters have been developed lovingly, with individuality and warmth. All-in-all the story is a quick, light, enjoyable read.

In order to allow her many talents to shine, however, Allin needs some editorial help. On almost every page I encountered sentences so burdened with dangling modifying clauses that I had to stop reading while I struggled to figure out what the author meant to say. The narrative is also packed with way too many parenthetical references to things that have nothing to do with the story. For example, staunch movie-lover that I am, I nearly threw the book across the room over her mostly irrelevant references to classic films. I'm sure this is Allin's way of sneaking in quasi-political ideas (wind farms are needed) or trying for realism (every meal is exhaustively cataloged), but it gave me whiplash to find myself pulled out of a gripping narrative only to be stranded in a strange accretion of detail that didn't seem to fit the story I thought I was reading.

Allin has all the makings of a first-class storyteller if she can correct these technical glitches in her writing, and I'll be looking forward to her next effort.

Reviewed by Carroll Johnson, February 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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