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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Review of SORROW LAKE by Michael J. McCann

Advent Book Calendar – Day 21
Since I started by blog, I’ve done an annual Advent Book Calendar highlighting books I have enjoyed and authors I really like.  This year I thought I’d do an Advent Book Calendar with a twist; for each day leading up to Christmas, I’m going to post a review of a book to which I’ve given only one star (Throw a book at this one) or two stars (Don’t put this book in your book bag).  Though I would not recommend these books, others have disagreed with me.  Each book, on Goodreads, has received a 3 or 4 Star average rating.

Review of Sorrow Lake by Michael J. McCann
2 Stars
Detective Inspector Ellie March of the OPP arrives in southeastern Ontario to take charge of a murder investigation after Bill Hansen, a business owner, was shot execution style in a farmer’s field. Assisting her is Detective Constable Kevin Walker. Since the book is described as “A March and Walker Crime Novel,” it is presumably the first in a new series.

The best adjective to describe this book is plodding. It is a tediously slow police procedural offering a detailed look at a homicide investigation: the collection of evidence, the interviewing of suspects, the uncovering and following of leads. This focus on procedural elements makes for a dull read. Much of the information is given in a dry expository style: “As their designated search warrant co-ordinator, Wiltse’s job involved writing what was known as an Information to Obtain a Search Warrant, or an ITO. Essentially an application for a warrant, the ITO presented to the judge all the information forming the basis of their reasonable grounds to believe that the search would produce evidence related to the criminal offence under investigation, at the specified location. Because it was specialized work, and because it was important to have all the relevant information from the investigation in the ITO at the time of the application of the warrant, Wiltse remained separate from the actual investigative work itself. This precaution ensured that the ITO was objective . . . ” Such exposition is the norm rather than the exception: “The process [of cloning VINs] involved taking the unique vehicle information number, or VIN, from a legitimate car and printing it on a blank replica of a VIN plate. This fake plate would replace the VIN in a stolen car. When accompanied by falsified paperwork, it gave the car a superficially clean history. Often thieves would circulate through parking lots at shopping malls or other public places, looking for high-end vehicles of a make and model that matched cars on their shopping list. Using a cellphone, they’d quickly lean over the windshield and photograph the dashboard VIN plates in these cars to capture the numbers for their cloning process.”

There is very little suspense. The only event that has suspense involves a supporting character who almost dies because of his own stupidity. Otherwise, there is a complete lack of any real danger. It seems as if the author mentioned a few punches between players at a hockey game just to add a sense of physical danger.

The two main characters, Ellie and Kevin, are developed fairly well though some of the background information is puzzling. It is repeated several times that Ellie’s daughters hate her. Ellie tells a colleague, “’My kids hate me’” and she also tells Kevin that “they hated her.” The explanation given for their hatred is weak: “But they hated her guts. There was no getting around it. As far as they were concerned, she’d consistently chosen her career – i.e., herself – over them, and they refused to forgive her for it.” An unwillingness to forgive is not the same as hatred.

Another difficulty with characterization is the number of secondary characters who are introduced but not differentiated. There’s Leanne Blair, chief superintendent of the East Region; Detective Constable Janet Olkewicz, the victim liaison officer; Tony Agosta, director of the Criminal Investigation Branch; Inspector Todd Fisher, the detachment commander; Staff Sergeant Rick Tobin, Fisher’s operations manager; Identification Sergeant Dave Martin; Susan Mitchum, Crown attorney; Paul Beeson, assistant Crown attorney; Detective Constable Craig Dart; Detective Constable Monica Sisson; Detective Constable Tom Carty; Detective Constable Bill Merkley; Sergeant Bob Kerr; Detective Constable John Bishop; Constable Rachel Townsend; Detective Ben Wiltse, search warrant co-ordinator; Detective Sergeant Scott Patterson, Leeds County Crime Unit Commander; Jonathan Smart, clerical support; Brenda Milton, data clerk; Constable Mark Allore; Dr. Yuri Dalca, coroner; Dr. Carey Burton, forensic pathologist; Sally Gordon, intelligence analyst. And that’s just the investigative team! It is a real challenge to determine who is important and needs to be remembered.

There are unanswered questions at the end. (Why were the drugs left in the Range Rover? How does Mrs. Shipman know that there are other people, besides her and Hansen, being blackmailed into assisting Waddell?) Such loose ends should be tied up. It is also disappointing that the crucial piece of the puzzle is found because of a hunch. (Why does Ellie decide to interview Mrs. Shipman since her name is never mentioned in the course of the investigation?)

I looked forward to reading this book because I enjoy mysteries and this one is set in the part of the province where I reside. Unfortunately, the book is monotonous.

Note: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.