The Coral Bride by Roxanne Bouchard

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The Coral Bride by Roxanne Bouchard front cover

Translated by David Warriner — Can you remember the plot details of a book you read a couple of years ago? If you’re a crime fiction lover like me, you may tend to get through quite a few over the months. And they’re all so different; some slide by like a ship passing in the night, while others anchor themselves into the memory.

Roxanne Bouchard’s We Were the Salt of the Sea is a prime example of the latter, and when a second in the series came along, featuring DS Joaquin Morales and set once again in the Gaspe Peninsular of Quebec, Canada, it was an exciting prospect.

Bouchard has such a lyrical way with words (and high praise must be given to the book’s translator, David Warriner, too), that the reader is soon taken off in the current, following the ebb and flow of the narrative and becoming immersed in a way of life that is probably pretty alien to the majority of us.

Setting plays a huge part in this series, and Morales, a Mexican transplanted into the fishing community by way of Montreal is the perfect person to lead fellow newcomers through the undercurrents

This is a police procedural like no other, as Morales is called in to investigate the disappearance of lobster trawler woman Angel Roberts, after her vessel is found empty and adrift off the coast of the Gaspe Peninsula. Where is the captain, who was complaining of feeling ill when she was last seen, following an anniversary meal where she had been wearing her wedding dress? This is the Coral Bride of the title, and Angel’s story is about to haunt Morales and the pair of disparate teammates he is saddled with.

First up is Constable Erik Lefebvre, an officer much better suited to desk work than being out in the field. He’s a man of many quirks and an overstuffed office space, and his conversations with his temporary new boss are a joy to follow. Morales must also work with fisheries officer Simone Lord, whose by-the-book approach and frosty manner gives him all sorts of problems – along with his obsession with her rather attractive neck…

Morales is still awaiting the arrival of his wife from their city home, and as this book progresses it becomes clear that this is never going to happen. Instead, he is a solitary soul, longing for female company. Instead, his company arrives in the shape of son Sebastien, a would-be chef who has stuffed his car with cooking accoutrements and driven many hours to spend time with his father. There’s more to Sebastien’s story than he’s making out and his father is immediately suspicious. Then work gets in the way and worries about his errant son must go on the back burner.

There is so much to love about The Coral Bride. Some authors set a course and stick to it, but Bouchard is a writer who revels in finding the hidden coves and undiscovered beauty spots of the narrative. Don’t expect the action to be fast-moving – in this author’s work, it is the journey, rather than the destination, that is important.

Which is a joy – because it gives the reader chance to revel in the sheer lyricality of the text, get to know the quirks and foibles of the characters and, ultimately, marvel in the clever plotting that creates such a satisfying finale. Then, as you finish the final page and close the book, you’ll feel a sense of loss because you’ve moved away from the magical Gaspe and back into reality. And that, my friends, is the sign of a brilliant novel.

You’ll find another quirky detective in The Long Call by Ann Cleeves. Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series also takes Quebec as its setting.

Orenda Books

CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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