ON DUTY by Ketsia  Lessard


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In Lessard’s debut novel, two siblings fight crime and desperation in rural Canada.

As the story opens, Vancouver-based Constable Jasper Nelson meets Heidi Finlay, a fellow member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the half sister that he only learned about just before his father’s recent death. The two quickly bond, and Jasper transfers to join Heidi in Inuvik, the rural Northwest Territories town where she grew up and still works. He quickly finds his footing in the north, and the siblings deal with crimes involving drugs, theft, abduction, suicide, and assault. After a brief transfer to an even more remote posting in Repulse Bay, they return to Inuvik only to run into trouble with corrupt local officials. The story alternates between both siblings’ first-person perspectives, and Heidi and Jasper have entirely distinct narrative voices. The more urbane and educated Jasper has a tendency to make grandiose pronouncements while Heidi tends to be more pragmatic (“I think it is relevant to expand on this family business, and I will tell it like it is”). The narrative becomes more episodic as the book progresses, presenting the cops’ adventures without making clear connections between them, and the sudden pivot to a conspiracy in the final chapter (which involves Freemasons) is unexpected. There are several well-developed Indigenous characters, but other depictions verge on stereotype, such as that of the first person Jasper sees in Inuvik: “A drunken Inuvialuk was lying on the church steps, an empty mickey in his hand.” Lessard is clearly knowledgeable about the cultures that she presents, however, and her book does a good job of showing the complicated and problematic relationship between Indigenous communities and the officials who often victimize them. A rich cast of secondary characters, including Bible-quoting Sgt. Nathaniel Matthews and Heidi’s friend Sarah Kudlak, is one of the novel’s strengths.

A law enforcement novel with engaging characters but uneven storytelling.

Pub Date: Feb. 21st, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-5255-4036-3
Page count: 174pp
Publisher: FriesenPress
Program: Kirkus Indie
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