Bradshaw (Quarrel with the Foe, 2013) returns to 1927 Toronto with a mystery that pulls a detective deep into the post–World War I, avant-garde art world in a city emerging from Prohibition.
Partially inspired by a true story, this novel begins with a blind competition for the commission to paint a mural on the chancel wall in Christ Church Grange Park in Toronto, commemorating Canadian soldiers felled during the war. The winning artist, Nora Britton, has been found dead, sprawled on the floor next to the scaffolding. The coroner rules it an accident; the Rev. Eric Hutchinson suspects foul play. Enter dogged veteran detective Paul Shenstone, complete with slightly rumpled garb and an ever present pocket flask of whiskey. Nora had been receiving threats from certain members of the congregation. Paul learns that Nora was actually the second person to win the contest; Herman Koch originally triumphed. But the announcement of his name caused an uproar in the community. Herman was born in Germany, and although he is a Canadian citizen and has lived in the country since childhood, his roots are considered to be highly objectionable. Unfortunately, Herman is Nora’s husband, grounds for further discord among the congregation’s troublemakers. Paul is convinced that Nora’s death is the result of poison, but proving it will be a challenge—by the time the inquiry becomes official, her body has already been cremated. Crime novelist Bradshaw’s plotting is meticulous, and his prose, delivered in Paul’s voice, is comfortably articulate. Paul is a gifted observer of people and places as well as the bigotries of the times. He notices the details: “The rector had white hair, large ears, and creases bracketing his firm mouth. The flesh of his face was lined with experience, but taut. His neck appeared to fit neatly within his starched clerical collar.” An ample supply of red herrings should keep readers guessing and involved until the end, even without the usual plethora of shootouts that propel the action of many police dramas. This entertaining tale mainly involves a solid, shoe-leather investigation.
An enjoyable read with a likable protagonist and an engaging murder tale.