June 16, 2009

Grave Doubts

By John Moss
Dundurn Press

332 pages
ISBN 978 1 55488 405 6

Like its predecessor Still Waters, Moss’ first novel featuring Toronto police detectives Quin and Morgan, Grave Doubts is a cozy collection of eccentrics cohabiting in the nasty little community of Gothic Ontario. Gothic is all interiors, ironic given that the old farm houses, institutions, relationships and even more intensely personal spaces, were all designed to protect inhabitants from dangers lurking outside, but it’s the others inside who must be watched once the doors have been slammed and the bolts shot. Inside this novel is a claustrophobia-inducing coincidence of cops, artists and academics engaged in various pursuits related to archeology.

Quin and Morgan are led by their reputation for curiosity to an abandoned house in Hogg’s Hollow, once on the northern edge of Toronto, where two headless corpses dressed in period costume and entwined in romantic embrace, have been disentombed from behind a sealed cupboard wall. Initially the mummified remains appear to be of more interest to anthropologists at the UofT (University of Toronto) and the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) than to detectives with the TPS (Toronto Police Service) but Morgan’s inquisitiveness compels him to dig further into the apparently cold case. It is murder as performance art, which suggests both some psychological characteristics of the actor or actors, and the probability of more engagements.

Early coincidences seem even more strained as they are logically linked to the sub-culture in which the detectives slowly immerse themselves. Now and again curtains are drawn as Morgan and Quin attend to the acts of gang warfare and domestic violence commonly presented in the outside world, but gangs and families are their own, relatively small communities with their own stifling, sustaining cultures driving their inhabitant’s dramas into repeat performances, just as the characters inside the novel repeat theirs. There too the shows must go on and on again. Only one way off this stage, and when the denouement arrives, Moss proves again that he is a thrill-master of detail and suspense, drawing readers into death’s lonely chill.

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