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Forty Words for Sorrow    by Giles Blunt order for
Forty Words for Sorrow
by Giles Blunt
Order:  USA  Can
Berkley, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Detective John Cardinal has been obsessed for years with the disappearance of young people in Northern Ontario's Algonquin Bay. He's a good cop who loves and cares for his wife Catherine, despite her periodic bouts of mental illness - 'she was his sunlight and wine and blue ocean - but a strain of madness ran through her like a fault line.' As the story begins, Katherine is in hospital, their daughter en route to college, and John is alone.

When 13-year-old Katie Pine's body is found encased in ice on Windigo Island, Cardinal is assigned back to homicide from burglary, where he was sidelined after blowing the departmental budget on the previous investigation. His new partner, Lise Delorme has also just been re-assigned, in her case from Special Investigations. It is soon clear to the reader that part of Lise's new job is to investigate her partner, who is suspected of tipping off a big drug dealer/counterfeiter about an ongoing investigation. John's ability to pay for his daughter's Yale tuition raises suspicion. Is there a shameful secret in his past?

Soon another body is found, and Cardinal suspects that other teen disappearances are actually murders, especially when the girlfriend of a recently missing young man (Keith London), shows up with a suspicious letter. The reader has watched Keith arrive in Algonquin Bay, and encounter some suspicious characters. It's soon clear that he's slated to be the next victim, unless John Cardinal can complete his murder investigation before Lise Delorme uncovers the secret in his own past.

The title relates to Cardinal's musing about the need of victims' families for forty words for grief, just as the Inuit have forty words for snow. Forty Words for Sorrow is a good blend of police procedural and thriller in an interesting context (in particular the Chippewa reserve whose Indians are 'as silent and invisible as ghosts' in Canadian society). The author's flawed and very human characters make credible compromises that lead to an unusual ending.

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