Giles Blunt is a gem of a writer who has not gotten the attention
he deserves. His talent transcends the
mystery/suspense/thriller/procedural genre, and his work is far
better than his mediocre colleagues. His newest crime novel, BY THE
TIME YOU READ THIS, features series hero John Cardinal.
Cardinal is a good cop, and his wife Catherine is a photographer of
some small fame who is serious about her teaching responsibilities
at a local college. They are a devoted couple who, together, have
lived with and fought her bipolar illness, which sadly led to her
several hospitalizations. Their grown-up daughter, Kelly, lives in
New York and is a struggling painter.
As BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS begins, things seem to be going along
quietly and productively for the Cardinals. One evening, as the
detective heads to the office to do paper work, Catherine announces
that she is going out to shoot a series of pictures against the
night sky, a halcyon of stars and the moon. They leave the house
together to attend to their respective jobs.
Almost as soon as he reaches the station, Cardinal gets a call that
the mayor will not believe that his wife is cheating on him unless
he sees it with his own eyes. And that "was how Cardinal came to be
sitting with the mayor of Algonquin Bay in the courtyard of the
Birches Motel"…waiting to see "if" the mayor's wife really is
in a room with another man. Of course she is!
The mayor jumps out of the car to confront his wife when she sneaks
out of the motel room on the heels of her latest conquest. Almost
simultaneously Cardinal gets a call on his cell phone from Sergeant
Flower: "We got a caller says there's a dead one behind Gateway
condos. You know the new building? Patrol on the scene already
confirmed." The detective takes off to sort out exactly what the
trouble is. A young sergeant greets him and says, "Got a dead woman
back there. Looks like she took a nasty fall…I [secured] the
perimeter till we know what's what." While the sergeant nervously
chats on, Cardinal proceeds slowly toward the crumpled body lying
next to the dumpster; he tells his young colleague that her ID
should be in her car. Then, Cardinal "went down on his knees in the
pool of blood and cradled the shattered woman in his arms." It was
The community is shocked and grief-stricken. Cardinal refuses to
believe that Catherine threw herself off the roof of that building.
But the medical examiner can find no evidence of a struggle or
proof that she was pushed. As people are notified, funeral
arrangements are made, neighbors bring food to soothe the mourners
and sympathy cards begin to arrive everyday. And when Kelly
proceeds to open the newest stack, she cries out: "Oh my God."
Cardinal wrestles it from her and reads:
"How does it feel a------?
Just no telling how things will turn out is there?"
Cardinal already was having a hard time believing that his wife's
death was a suicide, thus this note feeds his paranoia and propels
him into action. Still, he can't convince anyone to take him
seriously and no investigation is set into motion. But that doesn't
stop Cardinal, who is convinced that Catherine was murdered,
especially after receiving more maniacal sympathy cards. On his
own, while on "death leave," he conducts an unauthorized operation.
Those who have any idea of what he's doing, including his stunned
daughter, beg him to accept the "obvious" and allow himself to
grieve so that at some point he can go on with his life. He goes
back to his office periodically, but his only interest is learning
the connection between Catherine and her killer.
Readers will find BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS moving and provocative.
Mental illness, suicide, murder, grief and coping define the
mainframe of this tense novel, which Blunt treats sensitively and
knowledgeably. He explores the manifestations of different kinds of
depression and the pain it brings to patients and their loved ones.
He discusses grief and its impact on individuals with passion and
"The Planet Grief. An incalculable number of light years from the
warmth of the sun…. Grief stings your eyes and sucks the
breath from your lungs. No oxygen on this planet, no nitrogen; the
atmosphere is composed entirely of grief."
Blunt shows his stuff as he propels readers on a journey of
riveting twists and turns. As always, his characters are so real
they could be your chums, and his prose style is approachable and
not at all stodgy. Anyone looking for an intelligent read that is
well put together and quite unusual in the procedural oeuvre will
truly enjoy BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS.
Canada's John Cardinal deserves a place in the pantheon of other
international sleuths, including Scotland's John Rebus (Ian
Rankin), Sweden's Kurt Wallander (Henning Mankell) and Italy's Nic
Costa (David Hewson), to name just a few. And Giles Blunt deserves
to stand tall among the writers who created these heroes and whose
splendid work is read around the world.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on December 26, 2010