Review: About That Night

by Norah McClintock
Orca Book Publishers, 2014

aboutNightAbout That Night is a suspenseful, fast-moving mystery that will hook readers from the very first page. An elderly woman wanders away from her home during a snowstorm, apparently very confused and very frightened. At the same time, boyfriend and girlfriend Derek and Jordie are quarrelling about a bracelet Jordie’s ex gave her. Jordie thinks Derek has stolen it out of jealousy; Derek sets off for home in the storm to retrieve the bracelet and prove his innocence. That’s the last night of Derek’s life. Who would want to kill such a promising young man? And what a horrible coincidence that his next-door neighbour — the woman who wandered away — is now also dead. Very soon, Jordie must figure out who’s responsible for Derek’s death and who she’s willing to protect.

The novel moves like a film, cutting rapidly from scene to scene and character to character. The text is masterfully executed, with all the hints and red herrings a good mystery should offer. The characters are fairly standard figures, but the author has given them some complexity and nuance; there is also marked sophistication to the various story elements. The romantic conflicts at the centre of the novel may draw in YA readers who wouldn’t normally read a mystery, and the breakneck pace should keep them engaged. Avid mystery fans may connect the plot details before the characters themselves do, but even then various twists and turns will keep readers guessing right up to the last sentence — and maybe after.

Norah McClintock is a talented writer, and this taut, deftly plotted novel is an excellent choice for mystery readers, readers who prefer a high-action plot, and anyone who enjoys a well-told story. I highly recommend this novel.

 

This review was originally published in Resource Links, October 2014.

Review: “When Did You See Her Last?”

by Lemony Snicket
HarperCollins, 2013

Lemony“When Did You See Her Last?” is the second volume in a new Lemony Snicket series, All the Wrong Questions, which launched in 2012 with the novel Who Could That Be at This Hour? The new volume takes us deeper into the mysterious happenings in the soon to be deserted town of Stain’d-by-the-Sea. S. Theodora Markson is back, as are Moxie Mallahan, Ellington Feint, the police officers Mitchum, little cab drivers Pip and Squeak Bellerophon, and Hangfire, the villain at the helm of various misdeeds and disappearances.

This time around, the problem is the apparent kidnapping of Cleo Knight, the daughter of an important local family. When Theodora wraps up the case prematurely, Lemony feels compelled to uncover the real wrongdoing. His pursuit leads him and his associates into numerous risky situations, and by the end of the novel, the mystery has grown even bigger and darker.

Despite its noir-ish narrative, “When Did You See Her Last?” is often laugh-out-loud funny and features the distinctive voice and quirky stylistics readers expect in a Lemony Snicket novel. The narrator is an avid reader and throughout the novel uses books in a variety of ways to solve the real mystery. The narration actively encourages readers to read, making frequent (although often oblique) references to other books they might enjoy. As in earlier Lemony Snicket books, the narrator uses advanced vocabulary, glossing meanings in context. Certainly this strategy pushes up the reading level, but I found the tactic well integrated with the larger narrative style, never intrusive or artificial. The stylized artwork by Seth is a fine accompanying touch, adding to the atmosphere of the novel and providing its own storytelling.

“When Did You See Her Last?” can be read as a stand-alone novel, but readers may find the book confusing if they are unfamiliar with the first book in the series or with Lemony Snicket generally. Readers who already know Book 1 may find this volume not quite as strong, but “When Did You See Her Last?” is still a quirky, clever, enjoyable reading experience. It’s a great pick for readers who are willing to put up with a degree of ambiguity — and with waiting for the next volume in the series. I’m already looking forward to Book 3.

 

This review was originally published in Resource Links, February 2014.