Sometimes, when you’re snuggled up with a mystery, it would be nice to have a better sense of where it is all taking place. Oh sure, Paris is great, but when was the last time you wandered around le Marais in the Fourth Arrondissement? Well, get ready, gentle readers, because Brenda Chapman has written one just for us Glebites. Yes, you will recognize the streets, you will recognize the architecture, and if you cannot find the ash trees, well, she’s not an arborist!
Many will remember her fine Stonechild-Rouleau series that preceded this one. We mourned its ending and could not imagine what the follow-up might be. Well, Chapman has spent her COVID time well and come up with another winner. Blind Date will hook you from its early pages and reel you in, holding on until its final page.
The author has created a family of characters with whom you will bond. This time, the two sleuths are not both police. Ella Tate is a down-on-her-luck, recently down-sized crime reporter living on peanut butter sandwiches and trying to make a go of her own podcast. Her apartment is in the Glebe (Third and Lyon at a guess) in a house with a wacky, charming, totally loveable gay neighbour who refuses to allow her to become the curmudgeon she wants to be.
The mystery begins when Tate receives a puzzling message suggesting that she follow up on a rape that has taken place in the Civic Hospital area. A young teacher has been brutally assaulted and before Tate or the police can interview her, she leaves (or is abducted from) the hospital and commits suicide (or is murdered).
Tate has a long-established relationship with Paul O’Brien, a detective in the Ottawa Police Service. Because he trusts her integrity as a journalist and admires her doggedness going after a story, O’Brien is prepared to share (off-the-record) a certain amount of inside information, especially if it will beat the bushes to get even more information in the air. Tate has her own reasons for trusting O’Brien, so it’s a workable relationship if not a match made in heaven.
Liam Hunter is O’Brien’s temporary partner in the rape investigation and, as the story progresses, he learns to respect, if not exactly like, Tate. Hunter also comes to trust that he can share information with her without jeopardizing his career, important because of his acrimonious relationship with his boss. After two more murders, Hunter wants to tie them together, but the boss won’t hear of it; later she wants to point the finger at Tate for all three. While Tate is in some way connected to these murders, Hunter is convinced that she is more victim than murderer.
The story picks up speed when it starts bouncing between Ottawa and Almonte, and we get a taste of the Valley as well as the Glebe. There is action off the Carp Road as well as in the Byward Market and the Mission. Chapman puts a human face on homelessness and makes the reader think twice before judging people’s choices.
There is a really good mix of characters here – not everyone is middle class and beautiful nor are they all prostitutes and grifters. Her shading of the folks that she portrays is admirable. Even the villains have mothers.
Chapman is a solid writer. She includes enough description to give us a sense of place without making us want to skip whole paragraphs of colour commentary. Her character sketches detail portraits of people for whom we come to care. We care about what they do and what is done to them. While she is not Agatha Christie (but then, who is?), Chapman takes us on the twists and turns that are the bread and butter of a good whodunnit.
So go buy a copy of Blind Date at your local independent bookstore and give Ella Tate and Liam Hunter a try.
Sharon McCue is an avid mystery reader, especially those by Canadian writers, and has reviewed books for the Canadian Library Journal. She has lived in the Glebe for more than 30 years.
by Brenda Chapman.
Ivy Bay Press, 2022.