Negative Image, Vicky Delany, Poisoned Pen, $24.95.
This is a very pleasant novel set in Trafalgar, British Columbia, featuring Constable Molly Smith. It’s a police procedural at its heart, though it’s also a nice, layered look at Molly’s life, taking in all aspects - her romantic life, her relationship with her parents, and her relationship with her brother. Her parents run a small shop in town, and one of the opening scenes finds Molly’s dad collapsing at work. Molly thus spends her time split between a breaking case, worrying about an apparent stalker, and hospital visits to see her father, which also serve to round her out as a character. One of my favorite details was that her parents, apparently former hippies, actually named their children “Samwise” and “Moonlight.” Of course neither of them use their given names, and it’s sometimes confusing when Molly is called “Moon” by her mother, but it’s a funny, sweet detail.
The major case in the story concerns a formerly famous photographer found dead in his hotel room, and the main suspect - or “person of interest” - appears to be the wife of one of the policemen, John Winters. Delany pokes apart their marriage with a deft hand; while you can understand to some extent the way Winters reacts, at the same time you feel frustrated with his behavior. In my opinion, that’s the work of a writer who can really create an indelible character.
There’s also a backstory involving a series of robberies - a case Winters is delegated to, as his wife is a suspect in the murder - as well as a story involving someone who is stalking Molly. Because she is unwilling to appear weak as a female officer, she doesn’t confide what’s going on to any of her superior officers until late in the story.
Meanwhile, she’s visiting her parents in the hospital, watching her mother age before her eyes as her father, very weak, does not improve. Molly is pleasantly surprised by the support her boyfriend offers her; because of a dead lover, she feels some guilt, but he’s there when she needs him and she seems to reach a decision about their relationship by the end of the book.
Molly seems hemmed in by policing in a small town - she knows everyone, and everyone knows her - but she’s stuck figuring out how to advance her career, stay near her boyfriend, and support her parents. In this way this novel is also very much like real life.Molly is a very appealing central character who is smart enough to figure out what’s going on, but not so smart that she seems unapproachable. Every step she takes is mostly gained through solid police work; her mistakes, when she makes them, are sometimes a product of her immaturity or inexperience. All in all, this is a nice addition to the small town police novel.
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