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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

By the Time You Read This

Reviewed: July 31, 2008
By: Giles Blunt
Publisher: Seal Books
410 pages, $10.99

For many years John Cardinal’s wife, Catherine, has battled bipolar disorder. Sometimes it has institutionalized her. Sometimes her medication keeps it at bay. Sometimes her work, as a art photographer and teacher at a community college, helps to keep her stable.

John is absolutely faithful to his wife, though he has sometimes had thoughts about his attractive colleague, Lise Delorme. Their work as police officers in Algonquin Bay, Ontario, has often thrown them into close contact and, at times when Catherine has been especially ill, John has been tempted. She has too. Neither of them has acted on these private thoughts, of which both are ashamed.

When Cardinal went to work on that early fall day Catherine was heading out with her cameras, focussed on a photo shoot she was planning for the day, preoccupied, a little distant.

Just a few hours later that night, after having dealt with the problem of the mayor’s unfaithful wife, Cardinal found himself called to the scene of an apparent suicide. It appeared that a woman had jumped from the roof of a new high rise apartment building. The woman he found on the ground near the dumpster, where the uniformed cop led him in the evening dimness, was Catherine.

It was Delorme who was called to head up the brief investigation, one which ended fairly quickly when the team found a suicide note on the roof. It began, “By the time you read this, I will have hurt you beyond all forgiveness.”

Cardinal couldn’t let it go, couldn’t accept it, and when he started getting poison pen cards from someone who seemed to be exulting in Catherine’s death, he felt he had every reason to believe she had been murdered. A good deal of the story is spent with him following what appear to be various dead-end theories about this.

Delorme, on the other hand, moves on to a case involving a rather nasty pedophile, a case promoted by a series of photographs that keep turning up on internet porn sites. The photos feature the same young girl and appear to have been taken over a number of years, from a time when she was quite young until her early teens. It seems the photos have a link to Algonquin Bay, and Lise is determined to find out what it might be. Over time she identifies locations and begins to narrow down times, but suspects are in short supply.

In the midst of all this, a second suicide, a particularly horrible and dramatic one, takes place right in front of an off-duty officer and leaves him shaken.

It is shortly after this that we begin to learn that Catherine’s analyst is linked to a number of suicides among his patients, that he is in fact performing a sort of reverse therapy intended to drive his depressed clients to their deaths at their own hands.

This is not spoiler material I’m giving you here. We spend quite a bit of narrative time with Dr. Bell and, as he watches the surreptitious videos he has made of many of his consultations, we see just how he manages to unwind his client’s psyches and get them to do what he wants them to do. We understand why he does it, not that that makes what he does any more acceptable.

The question as always, in this particular type of detective story, is how the police will manage to assemble enough information to make the connections they need to make. The combination of cases - Catherine’s death, the suicides, and the pornographic pictures of the young girl - eventually trigger a sort of intuitive leap that leads both detectives down the right road to a solution.

This is the fourth John Cardinal mystery written by a guy who grew up in North Bay and seems to have recreated the place in his setting of Algonquin Bay. According to his website his next book will feature a different cast of characters. That’s fine, Variety is good, but I hope we haven’t seen the last of Cardinal and his northern Ontario city.

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