Sunday, March 30, 2014

Constable Molly Smith Series: UNDER COLD STONE, Vicki Delany

Forget Italy, France, South Africa. Pick up a Vicki Delany mystery and rediscover what you might think was an ordinary sort of place: Canada. But in Delany's deft storytelling, this ever-wild nation comes alive in its particular places. Her much-loved Constable Molly Smith series is based in Trafalgar, British Columbia -- but in this seventh title, Smith and her mom Lucky (who is paired up with Smith's boss, an unlikely couple if ever there was one) dig into crime and crime-solving in the remarkable town of Banff, Alberta.

I have to confess, the official Banff/Lake Louise (Alberta) website has won my heart with such daring assertions as "They say Mother Nature loves all her children equally, but we're pretty sure we're her favorite." And then there's "You'll find relaxing can be wonderfully exhausting." That one might well apply to Lucky Smith, making her best effort to accept pampering at the "Banff Springs" luxury resort. Like the real luxury lodging in this prime resort (founded in 1885!), it's luxe, pricey, and an ideal location for her to savor a week away from her environmental activism lifestyle, with her partner, Chief Constable (of Trafalgar -- a mountain range distant) Paul Keller. While she's making the most of spa treatment and fine cuisine, her daughter -- a constable -- is trying to figure out how Mom made all those Canadian Thanksgiving dishes.

Yes, it's October, "shoulder season" for the resort, since the famous snow-pack isn't yet in place. That means the resort is almost affordable for Lucky and Paul. It also means there's a heavy dose of seasonal unemployment around the resort, as the ski trade isn't yet hiring.

Suddenly that's an issue in Lucky's lap, when she finds herself threatened in public by an out-of-work ski instructor, for the second time in two days. Except this time Paul is nearby, and in one of those coincidences that happen in real life even more often than in fiction, the scruffy menacing ski bum turns out to be Paul Keller's estranged ne'er-do-well son Matt. Not exactly a warm sense of family reunion, is it? Still, Lucky's willing to let father reconnect with son -- it just doesn't seem to be in the cards, though.

Until the wee hours of the next morning when Paul gets a phone call that ejects him from bed, while Lucky feels that familiar echo of panic for her constable daughter -- who isn't the one in trouble just now.
"Paul, please, tell me."

"That was Matthew. His roommate's dead."

"Why? How?"

"Matt says he got home, found the fellow dead."

"How awful." Lucky thrust her arms through her sweater.

"I'm going over there. You don't need to come." ...

Lucky looked Paul in the eye. "Then all the more reason for me to come. You're not going because you're a police officer. You're going because you're his father. You need me, Paul, even if your son doesn't."
When they arrive at the scene of what's clearly a murder, though, Matt has fled and is soon the main suspect for the crime. Under the circumstances, his dad isn't able to run the investigation, of course -- and Lucky's sensible first call is to summon her daughter, Constable Molly Smith.

So Delany sets up a fast-paced and complex interaction among three couples -- the missing Matt and his "white trash" diner-worker girlfriend, Lucky and Paul, and Paul's soon-arriving ex-wife and her wealthy new lover -- plus Molly herself, barely allowed to interact in her own Constable role.

Swiftly, the force of the plot lands among the women on hand: Molly, Lucky, ex-wife and Matt's mom Karen, and poignantly, the confused but devoted waitress Tracey, who's willing to help Matt at any cost, whether the murder is his fault or not. Add in a criminal network in town, and the uneasy alliance of investigators and victims, and the pace continues to accelerate, with threats coming from both likely and surprising quarters.

Although Constable Molly Smith's role is one of a handful of points of view here, Delany proves that it's both Smith''s insight and her willingness to push the boundaries of the investigation that ultimately lead toward the truth -- no matter how hard it may be to handle.

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