Written John Farrow — Farrow is the pen name that acclaimed Canadian writer Trevor Ferguson selected when he decided to try his hand at writing genre fiction. It’s his fourth book featuring detective Émile Cinq-Mars and the first of the planned Storm Murders trilogy.
In this mystery/thriller, prickly retired Montreal Sergeant-Detective Cinq-Mars finds himself flattered and cajoled and inevitably drawn into helping in the investigation of a rural Quebec double murder that culminated in the additional slaying of two young Sûreté du Québec police officers lured to the remote farmhouse by a phone call.
Perhaps Cinq-Mars decides to aid this investigation because he is intrigued by the crime itself, the lack of apparent motive, and the absence of the killer’s footprints in the newly fallen snow around the house. Perhaps it is the puzzling entreaties of a senior FBI agent, looking for answers in a case that’s way out of his jurisdiction. Perhaps it is the bleak persistence of a Canadian winter making the days weigh heavy on Cinq-Mars’s insufficiently occupied brain. Or perhaps it is his wife Sandra’s startling intimation that she might leave him, making the investigation a welcome preoccupation that might enable him to in some way resurrect the man she’d fallen in love with.
The FBI agent, frustratingly close-mouthed, at least reveals that the deaths of the Quebec couple share certain grisly similarities with a series of murders in the United States. All have involved a married couple, always they’ve occurred after a major calamity. None of the neighbours knows much about the couple because they were relatively new arrivals to the area. In the hope of finding out more details that would suggest a connection among these deaths, Cinq-Mars travels to New Orleans. The first pair of murders occurred there, shortly after Hurricane Katrina. Sandra accompanies him, because the trip promises to be a semi-vacation. Both she and Cinq-Mars hope a change of marital venue will help them reconnect.
In Louisiana, Cinq-Mars encounters a NOPD detective, a hotel security head, a whip-smart female FBI agent, and other assorted characters, none of whom he fully trusts and none of whom wholly trust each other. When Sandra is kidnapped, it’s clear that much more is at stake than a cold case exhumation by a retired foreign police detective.
Booklist has called the Cinq-Mars books ‘the best series in crime fiction today’, though this is the first of them I’ve read. Farrow’s writing style, honed by writing literary fiction, is confident and sophisticated, and the book starts strong. Conversations among characters who know each other well are terse as in real life, leaving you to fill in gaps and revealing much about their relationships. Apparently, there’s a lot of water under the bridge between Cinq-Mars and his former Montreal police colleagues, and the banter among them is entertaining.
In general, the characters and setting are interesting and well-developed, especially good-humored multi-racial NOPD detective Pascal Dupree and ambitious hotel security chief Everardo Flores, who enliven every scene they’re in. Both New Orleans and Quebec in winter become strong presences.
Unfortunately, the plot is not as robust as these other elements. I guessed early on (and I’m not a particularly insightful guesser) why the FBI was interested in this series of murders. There are few leads in the Quebec episode and some clever ones are pursued, but several others are neglected. I’d have thought the phone call that brought the ill-fated police officers to the farmhouse would have warranted investigation, for example.
Farrow receives praise from some reviewers for writing character-driven mysteries, but for my taste, Cinq-Mars’s examinations of his feelings about religion, his wife, and retirement are rather too long. The denouement is drawn out past the point of believability, including both conversation and events that seemed unlikely. While this book has much to recommend it, especially for admirers of the series, it requires, in the end, some suspension of disbelief.
£16.42 (hardcover); £9.49 (Kindle)
CFL Rating: 3 Stars