Plenty of intrigue in the Glebe

When Last Seen

by Brenda Chapman

Review by Barbara McIsaac

When Last Seen is the second in Ottawa author Brenda Chapman’s Hunter and Tate mystery series. The series features Ella Tate, a true crime podcaster and freelance crime journalist for the Ottawa Capital newspaper who lives at a fictional address on Percy Street in the Glebe. Her unofficial partner in detection is Liam Hunter, a detective with the Ottawa Police. Ottawa and the Glebe are the scenes of the dastardly events around which the books evolve.

Chapman is well known among aficionados of crime series for her Stonechild and Rouleau books, featuring locales in Kingston and Ottawa. I was a huge fan of this series and sad to see it end. Both Stonechild and Rouleau were compelling characters, and the plots were interesting, labyrinth and realistic. Therefore, I was quite excited when the first book in this new series, Blind Date, was published. Unfortunately, I was also disappointed. The character of Tate was not nearly as compelling as that of Stonechild, and the plotting in this first effort seemed to me to be more plodding and contrived than in the previous series. In fact, Tate was a bit too much of an emotional mess for my taste, and her personal issues detracted from the overall plot.

I am very happy to report that When Last Seen is miles better than Blind Date, with compelling characters, an interesting plot and a conclusion that one does not see coming. The book opens with every parent’s worst nightmare, the disappearance of a young child. And it keeps the reader guessing about what happened. Drowning? Abduction? No obvious answers and no obvious suspects. But there are lots of red herrings and rabbit holes to keep everyone from Ella to the police to the reader on their toes. Add to this tragedy a dysfunctional family full of people who can’t quite bring themselves to tell the truth (even if they don’t really have anything to hide and the truth would help), some shady underworld characters and a squad of police detectives caught up in their own personal and office issues, and there is plenty of intrigue to keep everyone on their toes.

As a bonus, for those familiar with Ottawa, and particularly the Glebe, it is fun to read a book where people are going for coffee on Elgin Street, buying ice-cream on Bank Street, strolling through the market and zipping on and off the Queensway as they go about their business. In fact, I found myself paying particular attention to the venues. Did she get them right? Is the geography accurate? I am pleased to report that it is, unlike in Blind Date where I thought that I detected a couple of geographical anomalies.

I found the character of Ella Tate to be more sympathetic and more realistic than I did in the first book. She still takes silly chances when going her own way to solve the mystery, but I think that must be a necessary literary failing of all good crime fiction heroes or heroines. If they did not get themselves into a pickle, the plot would suffer and the tension would be missing. The author has also done a great job with the friendship between Tate and Detective Hunter, and the tension between his job as the official investigator and her role as the nosey reporter. They are frequently faced with the decision of whether they can share information without compromising themselves in their roles as detective and reporter. This is another dimension to the book which fans will look forward to seeing developed in future books. Will their relationship turn into more than just that of friends and sometime colleagues? Trouble is also afoot in the ranks of the police. What will become of the jealousies and intrigue taking place there? At the end, another relationship between Tate and her childhood friend Finn takes an interesting turn. Again, something that will no doubt be addressed in the next book. Enough to keep fans ready and waiting for the next installment.

Barbara McIsaac has been a fan of Brenda Chapman’s writing for years and has read all her previous books.

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