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Pluto Rising: A Katy Klein Mystery

by Karen Irving

Speak Ill of the Dead: A Camilla Macphee Mystery

by Mary Jane Maffini

Ruby Ruby: A Murder Mystery

by Bradley Harris

After almost two decades of stellar and world-class Canadian crime fiction from writers such as Gail Bowen, Howard Engel, Peter Robinson, Ted Wood, and the two Wrights (Eric and L.R.), there is no phalanx of promising mystery writers settling into place as obvious successors. The past few years have been bereft of clearly top-class talent, and if three recent first mystery novels are any indication, the future of Canadian crime writing is one of competent blandness rather than edge-of-the-seat excitement. Each of these first-time authors has stuck resolutely to the traditional genre formula and none has broken exciting new ground.

One thing is clear, though, there’s a minor mystery-writing renaissance occurring in the national’s capital, where two female residents have produced novels with eerie similarities. Both Pluto Rising and Speak Ill of the Dead feature an Ottawa-based, slightly ditzy single female forced into reluctant detection to counter an unsympathetic police department. Each woman operates on her own a business teetering on the edge of success; neither has completely abandoned romantic hopes; both are smart, competent 1990s women labouring under the weight of their parental families; and each has a propensity to take whimsically dangerous (and often stupid) actions that undermine her credibility.

Karen Irving, who has worked as a social worker and counsellor, uses both her vocation and avocation to good effect in Pluto Rising, which features a 40-something ex-social worker turned consulting astrologer, Katy Klein, and her computer-obsessed teenaged daughter. When a new male client wants astrological help sorting out his jumbled childhood memories, Klein is uneasy with both the ramifications of the question and the motives of the questioner. She and her family are drawn reluctantly into a conspiracy and cover-up that goes back decades and involves some influential figures in politics and the medical establishment. When Klein’s client is killed, her search for the murderer leads to some computer hackers, a brush with Ottawa’s shadowy security services, and an expedition to Montreal for historical hospital records. Each step also brings her inexorably closer to personal danger. The story is garnished with a few interesting characters (including a psychiatrist with the apparent ability to abandon practice and patients at a moment’s notice) and glimpses of the protagonist’s family and social life, but the plot is too well telegraphed and inevitable to be challenging.

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