THE MYSTERIES by Robert McGill (McLelland & Stewart), 338 pages. $32.99 cloth. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
The Mysteries is one of those debut novels that shows a ton of talent from a writer who needs more editorial help than he's getting.
Robert McGill does have a great premise going: Alice, the dentist in Sunshine, Ontario, disappears. Everyone in the town has a secret, but we're not sure which of these is connected to the killing.
He also draws some very sharp characters in deliciously complex relationships. Daniel, the town's golden boy just back from study in Cambridge, UK, had a passionate friendship with the murder victim. Hockey coach Stoddart Fremlin, who used to own Alice's practice, is behaving in what looks like guilt-ridden ways. A lonely widow tries to get close to her neighbour Archie, who likes to search through people's garbage for what he thinks are collectibles. There's an investigator in town with her own agenda.
And they live in a place packed with intrigue and potent issues to deal with. In particular, one of Sunshine's entrepreneurs wants to put a wildlife park on lands local natives say are burial grounds.
But as a storyteller, McGill lets his characters down. Some of their secrets are easily discerned by anyone who reads a daily newspaper. And the little twist at the end that's supposed to make sense of a narrative that's been weaving back and forth through time feels more irritating than satisfying.
Which is too bad, because McGill has created a stimulating scenario and characters that you grow to care about.
Keep an eye out for this guy. He knows a lot about human motivation and he writes evocatively about small-town life. He just needs to figure out how to put it all together.