River of Lies is the fifth book in the BC Blues crime series by R. M. Greenaway. Many thanks to Netgalley, Dundurn Press and the author for this ebook in exchange for an honest review. Unfortunately, I haven’t read the other four books, which would have provided a lot of much-needed backstory. For all that, I did a pretty good job of figuring things out.
In rain-drenched Vancouver, detectives Dion and Leith chase connections between a tragic drowning, a violent assault, and an apparent suicide.
February is the month of romance, but in North Vancouver it’s also become the month of murder. While the North Shore RCMP slog through the rain in the search for whoever left a young woman to die in the Riverside Secondary School parking lot — their first clue a Valentine’s Day card — a toddler mysteriously vanishes from a Riverside Drive home in the midst of a dinner party.
While Constable JD Temple focuses on the parking lot murder, Constables Dave Leith and Cal Dion work the kidnap. Soon a tenuous connection is made between the two cases, and when more tragic deaths occur along the tumultuous Seymour River, a thin ray of hope arises that the child could be alive and well in the hands of a childless couple.
Step one: what’s going on?
I found it difficult to pin down the main character and the different personalities. The book flips, almost at whim, between JD, Leith and Dion. Mostly between the two men. Up until the 25% mark, I kept getting Leith and Dion confused. I knew there was supposed to be some sort of friction between the partners, but the particulars weren’t immediately telegraphed. Maybe it’s very Canadian to be seething on the inside and show no outward signs, but there just wasn’t anything there.
(That’s probably the most Canadian observation I’ve ever written, to be honest)
I also missed the fact that the three investigating officers are RCMP. Somehow I must have just skimmed that info in the description and first few pages. I stopped around the 30% mark, went back, and flipped through until I found a brief mention of the investigators’ policing service.
A short sidebar about policing in Canada
See, Canada has Federal, Provincial, and Municipal police services. In Alberta, for instance, larger cities have municipal police services complete with homicide detection and forensic units. Smaller centres are overseen by the RCMP. Municipal policing in Ontario is mostly looked after by the Ontario Provincial Police. The Northwest Territories contract their police services directly from the Mounties. Aboriginal and First Nations services round out the whole kit and caboodle.
River of Lies is set in North Vancouver. Vancouver, like Toronto or New York, is a Metropolitan area made up of different communities. The Central part of Vancouver has municipal services. The outlying communities are apparently divvied up between local services and RCMP. Hence my confusion. That’s my bad, I guess.
This was not an easy read.
By the 30% mark, then, I had enough of the backstory figured out to allow me to relax into reading. Greenaway starts with the death of a janitor, then adds in the disappearance of an infant. The two crimes seem unrelated, but then the bodies, and the inconsistent stories, start piling up.
I’m not sure which storyline the author was more interested in: the ongoing drama between the people in the precinct, or the mystery they’re trying to solve. The murdered janitor, aside from some brief initial investigation of her boyfriend, is almost totally forgotten until one of the investigators is out buying shoes for an upcoming charity dance. We get told that Leith has been partnered with Dion because he’s low-key investigating him for a suspicious death he may be involved in.
It’s so low-key, Leith and Dion spend as little time as possible in the same space, talking with each other. There’s a lot of time spent centred on the family with the missing child, but even that seems glossed over by things like Leith’s inability to trust his wife for taking her eyes off their kid for a couple of minutes in Stanley Park sometime in the past. And through it all, you kinda wonder if JD and Dion should just find a room and get it over with.
So the story is all over the place, but it eventually gets where it needs to be in order to resolve the loose ends. Except the overarching plot, which is foreshadowed to continue in the next book.
I like reading series books in order.
This is why I really like reading books in order. I also like having all loose ends tied up by the end. The JD Robb In Death books are perfect examples of this — you get a brief introduction to the main character, her work, and her social life in concise strokes at the beginning of the book. Preferably while she’s performing the initial investigation. If there’s an ongoing story, it’s backdrop, and really easy to fill in the blanks. The main mystery you want resolved is the one currently challenging our main character. Everything lines up neatly by the end of the book, and you look forward to the next book, when our beloved main character will face their next challenge.
I only use the In Death books as an example, of course. You could read any of the Three Investigators books and get the same satisfaction. Or Trixie Belden, Agatha Christie or even the Vampire Knitting Club. Yes, someone thought up a cozy mystery series about knitting and the paranormal and I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve read the first book and enjoyed it immensely. The upshot is, you have clear main characters with clear motivations, and the backstory stays in the back while the main action focuses on the task at hand.
Which, I suspect, is good advice for most authors, myself included.
All that aside, I did enjoy River of Lies. It just took far too long for me to get into, and if I’m being honest, I normally would have just given up around the end of the first quarter. Again, if I had the first four books, perhaps I’d hold a different opinion.
TL;DR Probably a good idea to read the first four books instead of starting with the fifth.
River of Lies by R.M. Greenaway
Published by Dundurn
Genres: Mystery, Serial
Amazon | Kobo
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