RogerBW's Blog

Murder in Focus, Medora Sale 30 September 2019

1989 mystery/suspense, second in the John Sanders/Harriet Jeffries series. DI Sanders is in Ottawa for training, and annoyed at the world; but he was also the last person to see an undercover cop, apart from the murderer.

The structure of this book is downright odd, as we shift between multiple viewpoints, and multiple parallel investigations. On the one hand, the RCMP have undeniable evidence that one of their own is corrupt, and are trying to root that person out while stopping whatever might be planned to happen at an international conference; on the other, Sanders runs by coincidence into Jeffries the architectural photographer, and also by coincidence she takes a picture of the man whom Sanders has just realised is probably a killer. So the same information has to be discovered in two separate narrative paths.

As for the book's value as a mystery to be solved, we know who the killer is but not the identity of the corrupt Mountie, though there's a limited pool of candidates. I didn't spot the villain(s), and I'm not sure that there's enough evidence to do so, but that doesn't seem to be the main focus of this strand; it's more "person A is talking to person B, and this is a suspenseful scene because as far as we know either or both of them might be rotten".

That would all be fine if it weren't for the character of Sanders, who is not only disconnected from his network of colleagues so that this doesn't work as a procedural, but acts like a macho idiot straight out of the 1970s; he's not happy about being sent to Ottawa, and apparently feels that that bad mood gives him licence to treat everyone he meets as dirt. Even when he falls for Jeffries he doesn't get much better, and while I enjoy the sort of snappy flirtatious dialogue of which the Thin Man films are the canonical example this feels more weary and vicious; as in the previous book, everyone is tired and on edge, all the time.

(And even in 1989, casually sliding your arm until it was resting on a woman's shoulders was generally known as a clich├ęd thing not to do, at least in my culture. But these characters are more than ten years older than I was, and Sale was fifteen years older than them.)

So not as much fun as I was hoping for, though the writing was solid and I'll carry on with the series for now.

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Previous in series: Murder on the Run | Series: John Sanders-Harriet Jeffries | Next in series: Murder in a Good Cause

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