by J. C. Paulson
Published by Joanne Paulson
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$20.00 ISBN 9-780995-975620
Broken Through is former Saskatoon journalist J.C. Paulson’s follow-up to her first genre-blending novel, Adam’s Witness, and the author’s only getting better. In the new book, heroine Grace Rampling – a Saskatoon StarPhoenix reporter – digs into another gritty story after a friend’s neighbour’s dog is shot on the same day there’s been a fatal hit-and-run in Saskatoon. Then: the neighbor, a young dental hygienist who recently kicked a drinking problem, is found brutally murdered in her home. And – spoiler alert – she was pregnant. The father? The philandering dentist she worked for.
That’s hardly all: Rampling’s romantic partner, Detective Sergeant Adam Davis (from the earlier book), is investigating the murder, and the handsome and capable cop quickly connects this crime with others committed against petite, long-haired brunettes in Saskatoon and Winnipeg. Can you say serial killer?
The novel definitely earns the moniker of a mystery, but one could also call it a romance. New lovers Rampling and Davis are extremely passionate about one another, but both are also being careful. Davis suffers from PTSD, which manifests in violent nightmares. “I feel like a piece of glass, sometimes; the tiniest chip makes me shatter,” he tells Rampling. With their complementary careers, the lines between personal and professional sometimes get blurred for this love-struck couple.
This isn’t literary fiction, so you won’t find overly poetic passages that would slow the racing plot, except, on occasion, when the lovers are regarding one another. Here’s Adam, upon seeing Grace after he’s been in California for a conference: “His body was paralyzed, but his eyes couldn’t look at her hard enough. With her tumbled, wild dark-auburn hair, her magnolia skin, and in her flowing dress, she reminded him of a crazy, beautiful, windblown wildflower.” You will find taut and believable dialogue, cliffhangers that’ll have you flipping pages as fast as you can, and a story that has more bends than the South Saskatchewan River.
Davis and Police Chief McIvor are culturally-sensitive characters, and as three of the five victims are Métis or First Nations women, deep into the novel Davis consults Elder Eileen Bear at the women’s low-security prison for “a clearer understanding of what women, particularly Indigenous women, are facing, in terms of violence, domestically and otherwise.” There’s a reference to BC’s “Highway of Tears,” and Bear says the prairie assaults are “our River of Tears”. Later, during a police press conference, Davis explains that the Saskatoon police force is “going to find and train and hire more Indigenous police officers as detectives, who will bring cultural understanding to our investigations.” They will also “meet with Elders, particularly women Elders, on a regular basis.”
In her notes, Paulson writes that whether one reads this “as a murder mystery, a love story, a morality tale or a fury, [she supposes] it was intended to be all of those.” Mission accomplished.
In the final two chapters of this satisfying story, Paulson opens the door for further adventures for her crime-fighting duo. I’ll be waiting.
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