The Corpse with the Iron Will by Cathy Ace

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The Corpse with the Iron Will by Cathy Ace front cover

In Cathy Ace’s new cosy mystery, 10th in the ‘corpse’ series, Cait Morgan once again makes good use of her insight as a criminal psychologist and the investigative skills of her ex policeman husband, Bud. Their next-door neighbour, Gordy Krantz, in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, has died unexpectedly. Was it suicide or was it murder? Other books in the series have taken Cait around the world, but this time the mystery she encounters is right in her British Columbia neighbourhood.

Gordy has left a complicated set of instructions for the people he’s left behind, and they gather at his lawyers’ offices to review them. If the 10 people named in his will do as he instructs, they should gather again in two weeks to find out what legacy they will receive.

Gordy’s wishes and instructions come in hand-written letters, along with (presumably) well-meaning advice to the addressees. Advice not all of them take kindly to. While Gordy expresses appreciation to Cait for her friendship and support, he reminds her that she is not always right and that she and Bud need to make more friends in the community to become ‘an active part of the fabric of local life’. As a reader, you too may sense that Cait and Bud are perhaps too wrapped up in each other to connect with others. They’ve been married since book five, though their cuddling makes them seem like newlyweds.

In his letter to her, Gordy asks Cait to write his eulogy and encourages her to dig into his past and not leave anything out, even if some of the revelations don’t reflect well on him. He wants his truth.

Per instruction, Cait and Bud explore Gordy’s cabin, which predated the house where he died, and discover a treasure trove of old diaries Cait hopes will help her develop the eulogy. True to Gordy’s observation, Cait did not know all the people around the table, at least not very well. Here’s her chance to get acquainted.

Assuming the recipients of the letters were people important to him, she determines to interview each of them, ostensibly to uncover anecdotes about Gordy’s life that she can use at the funeral, but more particularly to find out more about his death. Once the medical examiner determines that Gordy died of hemlock poisoning, the seriousness of Cait’s inquiries intensifies. Plenty of hemlock grows on Gordy’s large acreage, so is that where it came from? Then the police investigation of Gordy’s house and property begins to reveal some startling and grisly findings.

Through the device of Cait’s interviews, you gain a good picture of each of the players, some of whom would fit the bill as suspects. Still, except that they were all somehow connected to Gordy Krantz, it’s hard to pinpoint a common denominator among them. They’re all so different. For example, among the letter recipients are the wife and daughter of Gordy’s ex-business partner – a man who disappeared years earlier. The mother is self-absorbed and anxious to receive any monetary legacy, and her daughter is the opposite. She runs a ranch for retired racehorses and a sort of Meals-on-Wheels program for area shut-ins. Gordy was one of her clients.

One thing author Ace does very well is describe the British Columbia setting in enough detail to not only make it tangible, but also convey her love of that beautiful part of Canada. Surrounded by trees and meadows, it’s perfectly natural that one of Gordy’s careers was in plant breeding, developing new varieties of rhododendrons that are still licensed and sold around the world.

Ace has developed a complicated plot with lots of threads and juicy revelations, but she ties everything together by the end, and you close her novel fully satisfied.

If you like cosies with strong settings, you might try Murder on the Island by Daisy White.

Four Tails Publishing

CFL Rating: 4 stars

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