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by Catherine Hunter
Turnstone Press, November 2006
352 pages
$12.99 CDN
ISBN: 0888013221

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

QUEEN OF DIAMONDS is the third novel from Canadian university professor and poet Catherine Hunter, following two other standalones. In general, I'm open to reading stories of the supernatural as long as they're not too far-fetched, so I was delighted with the 'reality-exposing' plot of this mystery/thriller.

Lorelei Good has a gift: she can relay messages from the afterlife, helping the bereaved speak with their departed loved ones. Of course, Lorelei's successful séances hinge on the talents of her little sister, Nixie 'Nobody', who has a gift for creative dirt digging on Lorelei's desperate, and often wealthy, clientele.

Lorelei is convinced that millionaire philanthropist and grieving widower Waverly Forbes is the perfect client to set her and Nixie up for life. She's working hard to convince Forbes to fund her 'PsyRen Foundation,' an idyllic rural center for psychic research. But just as Lorelei is getting close to closing the perfect trap, a competing psychic is found dead. And the sisters' own dark past returns to haunt them.

Hunter sets her story in her native Winnipeg, Manitoba, and the setting is drawn in rich detail, with beautiful, vivid descriptions of the city and surrounding landscape. The plot is absorbing and keeps the pages turning. The undercurrent of romance between Lorelei and a young lawyer who turns out to be a former schoolmate holds promise, but it would've been more appealing to me had I not been so lukewarm about Lorelei herself.

Throughout a large portion of the book, Lorelei lacks the depth of personality I expect to find in a main character – she's an empty shell at first, surrounded by other well-constructed beings and a gripping plot that should fill her in but don't. Most of the characters, especially Lorelei's sister Nixie, are well defined and substantial, which makes me wonder whether what I don't see in Lorelei is an intentional ploy by the author to set her apart from the rest.

Lorelei comes across as believing that everyone around her has been placed before – or beneath – her, so that she can manipulate them to achieve her goals. It's only at the end of the book, when we get to the heart of the mystery and what's really been going on, that she seems to materialize as a person, the essence of who she is being drawn out and even better defined by the events in her life.

The relationship between Lorelei and Nixie emerges as both what holds them together and what threatens to drive them apart. At 21, Nixie is struggling to assert her independence from her older sister, who has raised and protected her since the death of their mother when Nixie was eight, and yet she still finds a certain degree of pleasure in utilizing her talents to obtain information on Lorelei's clients.

Lorelei discourages Nixie from making friends or forming relationships with the people she perceives as outsiders – that is, anyone other than herself – clinging to her little sister as she believes each is the only person the other can trust and count on.

Their scheme is elaborate, and Hunter does a masterful job with the intricacies of it. The means to achieve the end are subtle but effective, the moment of revelation both astonishing and compelling. There is little disappointment with the resolution of the mystery; it plays out so that in retrospect everything makes perfect sense, despite indications to the contrary the first time through.

Even Lorelei has a moment, in the face of heartbreak, when the choices she is forced to make bring her character to a point that illustrates and justifies her existence, and my only regret is that the story ended just as I found myself wanting to read more.

Reviewed by J. B. Thompson, April 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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