A recently fired soon-to-be divorcée stumbles upon a famous, decades-old cold case in Smith’s debut mystery.
Henry Lysyk’s new life starts in a small Vancouver apartment. His wife’s affair ended their marriage, and he lost his job as a risk manager at a bank, his former bosses declaring him a “fraudster.” But it’s not all bad. His beloved 13-year-old niece, Frieda, is staying with him for a week. Her bubbly personality easily earns her friends among Henry’s fellow tenants. Frieda is also the first to notice a stranger creeping around the apartment building; she astutely dubs him “Mr. Creepy.” Henry is convinced that someone has been stealing crosswords from his daily newspapers, and he thinks not only is Mr. Creepy the culprit, but he’s possibly been casing the area. When various shenanigans occur at the apartment building, Henry, Frieda, and comic-book-artist neighbor Tess Honma take a closer look at Mr. Creepy. It seems this stranger is part of an online forum—amateur sleuths trying to solve cold cases. He’s investigating a well-known robbery from 50 years ago, certain that someone in Vancouver has answers. As Henry, Frieda, and Tess try to put a real name to Mr. Creepy, they gradually piece together details on the unsolved robbery. While only readers know Mr. Creepy has blood on his hands, Henry and the others soon learn he’s mentally ill. There’s a chance they may actually solve a noted cold case, but that won’t mean much if they can’t find evidence to point cops toward Mr. Creepy, who’s now on their tails.
Readers will quickly warm up to Henry, who headlines this opening installment of a prospective series. His ex-employers’ fraud accusations, for one, stem from Henry’s saving numerous businesses from foreclosure. The book spotlights several wonderful characters as Smith gradually introduces the building’s tenants. These early scenes are lighthearted but affecting. For example, during an outing with Tess and Frieda, Henry imagines them as his wife and daughter—the family he feels he may never have. Henry’s niece is surely the best character. In one scene, Frieda stealthily follows Mr. Creepy on her own, which ultimately necessitates a taxi ride with a cabbie who, like everyone else, is instantly fond of the teen. In the same vein, the villain isn’t one-dimensional; his dark family history is integral to the main plot. Prose is concise and indelible: “They…weaved past numbered offices, unlabeled metal filing cabinets, and open workspaces equipped with printers and computer monitors due for upgrades. They rode the elevator to the fifth floor in silence and followed [the constable] deeper into the labyrinth. The doors here were nicer, unpainted, wood instead of metal. The corridor opened up into a waiting area the size of Henry’s bedroom.” The cold case of the novel is a real-life unsolved crime that Smith skillfully weaves into the narrative—just enough particulars to entice readers unfamiliar with it and not decelerate the story. The author clearly leaves room for a sequel, which Frieda will hopefully join.
Keen, absorbing crime novel with likable amateur detectives.