When we first met Joanne Kilbourn in Deadly Appearances back in 1990 she was fairly newly widowed, her husband having been killed in a seemingly senseless murder. She was fishing around for something on which to focus her working life and trying to hold herself together enough to raise her children.
She succeeded in both endeavours, but on the way fell into the habit of getting tangled up in mysteries, many of which, like those of Miss Marple, seemed to involve people she knew, sometimes people from her past. it wasn’t inevitable that she would end up looking into the circumstances of her husband’s death, but it fits the pattern that the series has taken, so it’s not really a surprise that the fourth book, A Colder Kind of Death, opens up that wound.
It begins with a news broadcast, an announcement that the man who had killed Ian had been shot while he was in the exercise yard of the prison. Someone in a passing vehicle did it. Was Kevin Tarpley a random victim or the intended target?
It continues with the arrival of a letter from the dead man, hinting that things had never been quite what they seemed in the matter of her husband’s death. Then Tarpley’s girlfriend, Maureen Gault, who had been in on Ian’s murder but found not guilty, turns up in her living room, seeming to pose a challenge to Joanne’s view of the world.
When Maureen is found dead a few days later, on the eve of a social event which drew in Joanne’s old crowd from Ian’s days in politics, her body somehow has Joanne’s scarf around its neck.
That makes her the focus of media speculation about who might have killed Maureen Gault and perhaps also Kevin Tarpley. In a rather classic move, Joanne decides that the best way to clear herself is to find out who actually did the deed, even if it means reopening the emotional wounds left by Ian’s death.
What secrets did Ian and his colleagues in the former Saskatchewan government have that Joanne had not known? What had Ian been hiding in the Vermilion Hills? Was Ian’s death a random killing? had he been faithful? What was it about Maureen Gault that terrified nearly everyone who had known her from high school on?
This is a nice list of little mysteries from which to construct a larger one. We know, of course, that someone in Joanne’s past is going to be responsible for all of this. If the Kilbourn mysteries have a serious weakness it is this pattern, at least as far as the first four books are concerned. There are likely and unlikely candidates, and you do start looking for red herrings and clues at a fairly early stage. There also seems to be a fondness for denouements that occur in seriously out of the way places, but that’s a smaller quibble.
On the whole I find these books quite satisfying. I started late and generally only read one a year, so I may never catch up, but this one’s still in print and available all over the place, and lots of you will be even further behind than I am. Enjoy.