Slow-burning intrigue

The Mysteries
by Robert McGill

I had just been thinking that it was a while since I last read a murder mystery, and then I randomly selected this from my TBR. It’s a debut novel that the publisher describes as being akin to David Lynch’s films, which caught my attention.

There are a lot of characters in this dissection of small-town life in Ontario and one of the novel’s strengths is that I was interested in every one, finding them believable, complex and full of contradiction. Which is exactly what you need for a good mystery.

The town of Mooney’s Dump changed its name to Sunshine shortly after attractive young mother and dentist Alice Pederson disappeared two years ago, but a new name can’t take away the dark unease of the townspeople. Alice was last seen at a party at the local wildlife park, a party most of the town attended. Now remains have been found and a man has been arrested for Alice’s murder. But is it her body and her murderer? And what’s with these sightings of a tiger prowling loose?

In addition to the usual small-town intrigues of who’s sleeping with who and who used to date who, there’s the man who’s not been quite right since his parents died in a car crash, conflicts with the local First Nations reserve and gossip bordering on prejudice about a gay couple and a mixed-race marriage.

The timeline skipped around a lot, with it not always being clear when events happened, so that most of the relevant details to unravelling the mystery had been revealed before the final chapters pulled it all together by clarifying the order of events.

I was thoroughly drawn into the story and devoured the bulk of the book in one sitting. But I did have some issues with it. I know it’s an old method for thriller writers to try to mislead the reader with red herrings, throwing in extra suspicious characters and events, but there were moments reading this when I was annoyed by how a plot thread turned out.

What I didn’t notice until after I’d finished reading was that McGill appears to have made himself a character, adding a postmodern meta aspect to his storytelling. At least I think that’s what he’s done. Anyone else who’s read this know what I’m talking about? No? Just me then.

Published 2004 by Jonathan Cape.