The Death of Annie the Water Witcher by Lightning, by Audrey J. Whitson
Sea of Cortez, by Garry Ryan
Yup, Annie is dead all right. Sort of. More or less. But still growing toward a type of fulfilment.
You have to give The Death of Annie the Water Witcher (NeWest Press, $19.95) a little time. It weaves together a story seen from different characters’ points of view in the fictional northern Alberta village of Majestic. The separate strands take about fifty pages to start coming together. After that it’s easy to settle in and enjoy the multiple perspectives, which eventually converge.
There are some irritations. Several spelling mistakes jump out, like “knarled” in placed of “gnarled” and a married couple’s last name spelled two different ways, in large type no less. Canadian soldiers are placed at Verdun during the First World War although Canadian units never served within 200 kilometres of Verdun.
And the overall atmosphere of New Age mysticism may not be to every reader’s taste despite its quirky intrigue.
Most of the characters have a full and often surprising life, though. Whitson does a good job of making them believable in their individuality.
What’s really attractive is the sense of community built up through the days spanning Annie Gallagher’s death and funeral.
The village residents come together in a spectacular final scene. Many have been hiding something; they gradually drop masks they have worn for their neighbours. People who have shared a certain level of closeness end up feeling closer.
They begin to accept and even understand others they live beside. That’s a story of universal application. And who’s to say that any real place is more normal than the rather bent fictional landscape of Majestic?
Sea of Cortez (NeWest Press, $18.95) should satisfy fans of what may be Alberta’s longest running fiction series. Calgary police detective Paul Lane once again finds himself at risk while investigating a criminal conspiracy, this time in Mexico’s Baja peninsula; dealing with a drug gang means he’s in plenty of hot water without going for a swim in the sea. And once again he simultaneously has to cope with a wearing family situation back home.
Author Garry Ryan says his novels are more about family than about crime; they also comment on Alberta society, this time taking a dim view of drunken Alberta tourists at a subtropical resort. Readers have a choice of which aspect may interest them more — the adventure serial or the soap opera.
A few points in this tenth instalment stretch belief. Lane’s partner Arthur takes a suspiciously active role in the investigation for an accountant. And the natural justice meted out to some of the bad guys – a fulfilment of an old Mexican’s warning not to mess with the sea – is mind-boggling in its unlikelihood despite delivering some amusing satisfaction.
The fast pace of the thriller side of the story has enough violence and suspense to overcome the implausibilities and the mushier family drama. The solid character of Lane also keeps things centred. Fans should find it a fun and reliable read; newcomers may find themselves wanting to go back to the series start (Queen’s Park) to fill in the story so far.