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by Roy Innes
NeWest, October 2010
315 pages
ISBN: 1897126697

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The Chilcotin, British Columbia: Two members of a First Nation kill a white Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman, Brent Hansen. Only a child witness knows for certain that it is murder and can identify the killers, a fact he keeps hidden, but the seething racial prejudices in the area threaten to boil over into something nasty anyway. Sergeant. Paul Blakemore, newly posted from Vancouver to head the RCMP West Cariboo district, and tribal police Chief Daniels do not have a cordial relationship on even the best of days. Blakemore calls Vancouver for help, and his former head, Inspector Mark Coswell, is dispatched to look into the situation.

Thus it appears that MURDER IN THE CHILCOTIN is an inverted mystery in which we will follow Coswell and Blakemore's apprehension of the murderers and their strategies to avert possible violence. But a third of the way through the novel, it suddenly, though not unexpectedly, turns into a classic whodunit one in which the author scrupulously plays fair with the reader to the extent that, by paying minimum attention, he may solve the mystery well before Coswell does. In the process, however, Innes pulls off some of the most audacious games it has been my pleasure to witness. To say more is to risk a spoiler on my part.

This is the third Inspector Coswell mystery. Each of the three novels has used almost completely new sets of characters, different scenery, and even different narrative strategies. They do share some common themes, in particular an empathy for people on cultural margins and a great sympathy for those who try to bridge those cultural divides. Here, Richard Delorme is a First Nation member who aspires to become an RCMP officer. Coswell, in his fatherly manner, takes him under his care and begins grooming him for his difficult role.

The reader also becomes intimate with various other tribal members, members of Brent Hansen's household, game wardens, pot-growing tree planters, social workers, hunters, loggers, hotel keepers, waitresses, barmen, and the like. It would be interesting to get a member of a First Nation's take on the novel. It is my impression that Innes has succeeded as well as Tony Hillerman in entering a different psychology and a different world view. In fact, the reader probably will feel that she gains a keener understanding of what has fuelled the Native Americans' hatred than she does of what has caused the deep prejudices that rive the Hansens' ranch.

In his second career (until his retirement, he was a specialist in surgery of the eye), Innes is fast becoming a master mystery writer.

Drewey Wayne Gunn, Professor Emeritus at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, is author of THE GAY MALE SLEUTH IN PRINT AND FILM (2005) and editor of THE GOLDEN AGE OF GAY FICTION (2009), a collection of essays, including his own "Down These Queer Streets a Man Must Go," and a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and a Benjamin Franklin Award.

Reviewed by Drewey Wayne Gunn, December 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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