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Blackfly Season: A John Cardinal Mystery    by Giles Blunt order for
Blackfly Season
by Giles Blunt
Order:  USA  Can
Seal, 2006 (2005)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Blackfly Season follows Forty Words for Sorrow as the second in Giles Blunt's excellent series set in Northern Ontario, Canada and starring Detective John Cardinal. He's a decent and thoughtful man, a skilled police officer, and the loving husband of Catherine, an artist and photographer, whose personal demons of alternating mania and depression have scarred their long, and essentially very caring relationship.

Catherine takes her photography students on a trip to Toronto early in the story, leaving John home alone but increasingly anxious about the fact that she seems to be on the verge of another bipolar episode. Work keeps him busy though, in particular the case of a young red-headed woman who's temporarily lost all memory after being shot in the head. In parallel with the investigation into her backstory - and her own recovery of memories she's not ready to share with the police - we meet several shady characters led by the charismatic, mystical Red Bear, who's horning into the biker Viking Riders' monopoly on the local drug trade, and whose powers require a boost every full moon. An uneasy follower, Kevin, is also a wannabe poet, who has sad but very funny dialogues and interviews with the mentors in his mind.

While all this unfolds in a steady, low key development, it's blackfly season in Algonquin Bay - Blunt reminds those of us unfortunate enough to have been bitten by blackflies that this voracious bug 'resembles an attack helicopter, fitted with a sucker at one end and a nasty hook on the other.' They swarm and bite hard, as anyone who spends time in northern woods each spring knows all too well. Bugs - and the forensic clues they leave - play a key role in this investigation. As always, John Cardinal and Lise Delorme work well, together and separately - and you have to love comments like the one she makes when they come across a well decomposed body - 'I don't know about you ... But me, I don't think the blackflies did that.' As bodies accumulate, the tension rises in this well paced police procedural, until John Cardinal races to save the innocent and confront a monster.

I love the title and very much enjoyed this episode in an absorbing series - my one caveat is that I'd like to see more development of Delorme's character and backstory, and that increased tension between the two detectives would take the series' appeal to an even higher level.

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