COLD DARK MATTER by Alex Brett (Dundurn), 348 pages, $11.99 paper. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
What more intriguing premise for a mystery novel than dark matter, that powerful, unseen force in the universe that can only be observed through its gravitational pull on other objects.
In Alex Brett's brainy scientific mystery, Cold Dark Matter, Ottawa research fraud investigator Morgan O'Brien heads to Hawaii after an astro-nomer commits suicide on the bleak summit of Mauna Kea and his research diaries go missing. The repercussions land her in the scientific community, where she discovers a shameful secret born out of Canada's 60s involvement in the Cold War.
All the substance of a good whodunit is here. There's lots of high-speed action, real technology, murder, kidnappings, treks up to the windswept observatory that make your head spin, and a smart, kick-ass female protagonist. And it manages to be up-to-the-minute Morgan's best friend is transgendered, her source a gay journalist without being one of those trendy, style-page novels.
Brett's writing is as precise as the lens on the Franco-Canadian telescope the astronomer is found hanging from, and she brings star imagery into the picture without a glitch, describing a spiral galaxy sweeping out in the deep vacuum of space as milk mixing with coffee in slow rotation.
I like Morgan O'Brien's unquenchable thirst for strong coffee and the cold, hard facts. In the end, what she discovers is how one scientist's small miscalculation and his attempt to cover it up set off a chain reaction that affects the lives of a whole generation.
But after the plot's cosmic dust settles, Morgan herself remains a bit of an enigma. Like the dark matter she's been tracking, we never really get to see her.
Brett is nominated for the Arthur Ellis Award for best novel, to be awarded at the Bloody Words conference. See Readings.