Black Fly Season

Reviewed: June 3, 2009
By: Giles Blunt
Publisher: Berkley Books
384 pages, $10.00

While I was teaching English, my practice of assigning a monthly book report project quite often paid me the dividend of introducing me to an author I had not met before. Such was the case a couple of years ago when a top student of mine borrowed a book from her mother and reviewed it.

That book was Black Fly Season, which I have only now managed to acquire and read in paperback. Sadly it is the last of the John Cardinal / Lise Delorme mysteries that I will be able to read for a while. There were three others, two that come before this one and one that comes after, and I have read them all now.

Blunt grew up in North Bay, the city my Hamilton landlords always referred to as "up north" during the year I worked in Steeltown, and he has fictionalized it as Algonquin Bay for his mystery series. His recreation of the place is quite atmospheric, and I feel as if I have been there.

In setting up his characters, he followed a pattern which reminds me of Peter Robinson's books. There are two detectives, Cardinal and Delorme, who sometimes work together and sometimes just cross paths while working. There is a chemistry between them, but Cardinal is devoted to his wife, Catherine, and the only problems in their marriage stem from her bipolar disorder.

A successful photographer and college professor, she quite literally has her ups and downs, and her ailment does play a role in this story it has in the other books.

Where Blunt differs from Robinson in his narrative style is that he generally gives us chapters from the point of view of the ungodly,, alternating them with chapters featuring the good guys. This time out that role is filled by Kevin, a wannabe poet with a serious drug habit. His sections are kind of fun since a lot of them take the form of fantasy conversations he is having with famous TV interviewers after his literary star has ascended.

Kevin is hooked up with some bad people. Left to himself he would deal a few drugs and leave the world alone, but Leon and the strange mystic who calls himself Red Bear are very bad medicine and by the time Kevin realizes what they are doing he can't find a safe way out of the mess.

For Cardinal it begins with a red headed young woman who seems to have been slipped some kind of date rape drug. Found in a bar by an off-duty policeman, Jane Doe is taken to the hospital, where it turns out she has a bullet in her head - hence the strange behavior and the temporary amnesia.

Who tried to kill her? Does she need protection? Who is she really? Where did she come from?

The need for answers to these questions becomes even more vital later on when a man's corpse is found. He's been shot with the same faulty gun, and when that failed to put him away the killer went at him with a baseball bat to finish the job.

Even before that a member of local biker gang was found minus his head, hands and feet, stashed behind a waterfall in the bush, with all sorts of strange symbols marked on the cliff face near his body. Fortunately for the police, his torso had some very distinctive tattoos and it was easy to ID him.

By the time all of this has happened Jane Doe has begun to recover her memory, and it turns out that Terri is Kevin's sister, who is reluctant to share everything she remember with the police because she doesn't want her brother to get into trouble. What she doesn't realize is that he's already in just about the worst trouble he could find.

This is a fine book, and it's really too bad that Blunt has decided to give these characters a rest. The last of the books was By the Time You Read This (US title The Fields of Grief), which dealt with some really traumatic events for Cardinal. In interviews Blunt has said he needed to take a break from Algonquin Bay for a while. He's written two stand-alone thrillers since then. I haven't seen them yet, but I hope they gave him the break he needed and that there will be more from Cardinal and Delorme in the future.