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by Hilary Davidson
Forge Books, September 2010
352 pages
ISBN: 0765326973

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

First, take a simple idea that preys on the North American mind - identity theft. Then expand it to become more than just an uneasy possibility, but a terrifying and life threatening reality. The idea of common middle class people dragged deep into the murky waters of murder is a theme that has worked well for another Canadian author, Linwood Barclay. THE DAMAGE done by Hilary Davidson is like Barclay squared - without the humour, and flirting with noir.

When I heard Davidson speak about her novel at the last Bloody Words conference (the premier Canadian mystery con), I was immediately intrigued by her book's premise and impressed by her credentials. Winner the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, and nominated for the Macavity Award for Best First Mystery, AND the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Crime Novel? What made this book so well received?

Well to start with, there is the aforementioned plot. Lily Moore, a journalist and travel writer, has been called back to New York from Spain where she has been living, at the beginning of a bleak January. It's a sobering mission indeed. Her heroin-addicted sister Claudia has been found drowned in the bath of the apartment Lily rents for her - a grotesque copy of their mother suicide so many years ago. Jet lagged and still in shock, Lily visits the apartment and finds the rooms strangely tidy and sterile; not the typical surroundings for the messy and erratic sister Lily remembers. Lily assumes that Claudia has conquered her demons and was living a sober and more orderly life. That hope dies altogether the next morning, when Lily goes to identify the body. It's not her sister.

Who, then, has been living in the apartment, calling herself Claudia Moore? Lily's quest to find the woman's identity intensifies when the autopsy reveals the death was not suicide, but murder.

The next elements to consider are Davidson's well drawn characters, especially that of Lily and her sister. The author does an excellent job of introducing the absent Claudia through her friends and their relationships with her. Less so with Lily perhaps, I couldn't warm to her best friend Jesse, although he proved to be a loyal and stalwart 'Watson'. He was the only character that didn't come alive for me. Lily's ex-boyfriend Martin and Lily's drug baron were much more interesting.

The final element in the trifecta is the writer's skill in constructing the book. I felt that Lily's emotional reactions rang true and drove her behaviour in a very believable way.

Davidson delivered plot twists and red herrings wonderfully well. There were several points in the story where I was reluctant to put down the book and found myself speculating on the next chapter during the day. The pacing was consistent, and as the story gained momentum there was an "aha!" moment that left me gasping.

Although this is the first mystery novel for Davidson, she has paid her dues in the literary world. She has written award winning mystery short stories as well as several travel books. The story is set in New York city, Davidson's home for the last decade. As is the case with Peter Robinson, Canadians can claim her as our own, but I would like to see what would result if she applied her skills to a story that takes place on her native soil.

Davidson hints at a future romance between Lily and Detective Bruxton, but I am unsure if this book was intended to be more than a standalone, regardless of how well the characters were written. In order to expand this book into a series, Davidson would have to give Lily a reason to stay in the Big Apple and a job that would plausibly allow her to be involved in more murders. Without that, the series might erode into the typical amateur-sleuth-with-cop-boyfriend type of read.

And that would be a crime.

Merrill Young lives on an acre in rural Langley, BC where she has given up trying to win the war on clutter, cat hair and blackberry vines, and has settled for losing as slowly as possible.

Reviewed by Merrill Young, August 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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