THE BOY MUST DIE by Jon Redfern (ECW), 280 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NNN
nothing says summer reading like a mystery, and writers are more preoccupied with the genre than ever.
Witness the two events devoted to mystery and crime writing this week -- Bloody Words and Uncovering The Mystery Of Toronto Mystery Writers (see Readings, this page) -- and the fact that English prof and children's playwright Jon Redfern, who reads at Bloody Words, decided to make his first novel a crime story.
The Boy Must Die tracks the attempts of Lethbridge detective Billy Yakamoto to solve what could be serial killings. Several months apart, two young boys have been found dead among evidence that looks like the murders were cult-related. Both were being counselled by a sexy social worker who's hanging out with an archaeology professor who's trying to deal some stolen goods.
Factor in his student Justin, who owes money to a very nasty loan shark, and the case gets very complicated.
Redfern keeps the action going at a rapid clip, lovingly evoking the landscape of Alberta, where he was born. Like much self-consciously Canadian-based crime fiction, The Boy Must Die's strong sense of place is one of its major pleasures.
Redfern also pays attention to detail. Warning: the book contains a very intense autopsy sequence that gives a lot of explicit information about which layer of the dermis has to be peeled in order to determine.... You get the picture.
Too bad Yakamoto's uneasy family history -- his parents, new immigrants from Japan, were interned in a Canadian camp during the second world war -- wasn't tapped a bit more. Other race-related issues pertaining to the archaeological exploitation of native sites are similarly acknowledged but not probed.
Then again, this is genre fiction -- and a good read -- and not a literary event.