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A Willows and Parker Mystery
By Laurence Gough

McClelland & Stewart
$20.95 ($26.99 Canadian)

Reviewed by Therese Greenwood

With the 11th novel in his Willows and Parker series, Laurence Gough continues to sharpen the taut, brutal, hard-boiled writing style and fully realized characters that have become his signature. Shutterbug may be his best effort yet, as the author gives his characters a compelling internal life, seamlessly switching narrative perspectives and relating the violence of the streets to what the rest of society sees as reality.

Gough himself notes that his approach to crime fiction has changed as his series evolved. He killed nine people in his first novel, The Goldfish Bowl, and the death count per book has been dropping ever since. According to the press release accompanying Shutterbug, Gough observes, "You find it's not necessary, as you learn the technique of plot development, to kill as many people to keep the action going."

Gough also uses character development to its best advantage. One of his most interesting creations is the gangster Marty, whom readers have met before as the linchpin in antique mobster Jake Cappalletti's crime empire. The semi-reluctant racketeer yearns for a life with someone who "didn't find it absolutely necessary to backcomb her hair, splash on a quart of Chanel, and change into a push-up bra and five-inch stiletto heels, before she drove to the Safeway for a jug of milk."

But Marty's personal yearnings take a back seat as the Vancouver addicts who buy Cappalletti crack start dying like flies, part of a bizarre plot by a would-be drug kingpin, his retired lap dancer girlfriend, and a fall guy with an addictive personality.

In the midst of sorting out a barbaric carnage involving ambitious thugs, cops Clair Parker and Jack Willows continue to take their relationship in a decidedly middle class direction. Parker is thinking about kids of her own, while Jack's teenagers are proving to be more than one parent and one step-parent can handle. And there's always the mortgage to depress a cop already up to his or her knees in blood.

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