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AMONG THE DEPARTED
By Vicki Delaney
Poisoned Pen Press, May 2011 ($14.95)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
A little boy goes missing during a family camping trip in the forest near Trafalgar, British Columbia. Five-year-old Jamie Paulson is angry that he has not seen a single grizzly bear on this stupid camping trip in stupid Canada, so he slips away to find one when his folks aren't looking. During the extensive and intensive search, a human bone is found, and evidence points to it being that of a man who disappeared years ago. Constable Molly Smith is shocked: she is one of the last people to see the young man, back when she was a teenage girl named Moonlight by her hippy mother, Lucky Smith. She'd had a sleepover at her best friend's house. Nicky Nowak and Moonlight shared breakfast with Nicky's father, Brian Nowak. Soon after, he left the house to buy cigarettes and disappeared from the face of the earth. Until now.
The Nowak family was destroyed by Brian's disappearance. Rumors suggested he ran away with a woman from his church, or that he'd deserted his family. Mrs. Nowak withdrew into a shell, turning away concerned friends until they stopped trying. Nicky took off for the big city, changed her name to Nicole, and set herself up in a very lucrative business. Her brother Kyle never really left home. He set up an apartment/art studio in his mother's basement, but they seldom cross paths. The owner of a local art gallery is intrigued by Kyle's Nowak's paintings, which combine ordinary beauty with an overlay of ugliness and violence.
Molly is assigned the case by Chief Constable Paul Keller, who was the officer in charge of the original case. As the case moves along, Keller, who just wanted to question Molly's recently widowed mother, about her memory of that night, seems to be spending more time than Molly deems necessary with Lucky. Lucky is still an old hippie at heart, and her younger self had no fondness for cops, but the times may be a'changing.
Molly works the case with Adam Tocek of the RCMP. There are strong feelings between the two, but she is still mourning a lost love, and she is not sure if she can risk her heart again. She is at first happy when Nicky/Nicole shows up for her father's funeral, but after awhile she starts to suspect Nicole's profession might not really be interior decorating.
Delaney's work continues to grow deeper and stronger. This is a story of a crime, but it is also a story of family and loss and how family members deal with their grief. What really happened to Brian Nowak after he walked out the door is a complex and tangled tale, but the Mounties, and Constable Molly Smith, always get their villain.
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