Review: A Colder Kind of Death by Gail Bowen

The 8th book I will count towards the current Canadian Book Challenge is the fourth in its series and won the 1995 Arthur Ellis Award for best crime novel.

It has been six years since Joanne Kilbourn’s husband was bashed to death by the side of the road while driving home from a funeral but she is forced to re-visit the event during the publicity over the death in a drive-by shooting while in the prison exercise yard of the man convicted of his murder . When, a few days later, the man’s girlfriend who had been with him at the roadside murder but who was thought not to have had any involvement in the death is also killed, Joanne finds herself a suspect. Fearing the police might not look further and believing the answers to the murders lie in the events that transpired immediately before her husband’s death Joanne sets out to find out who the killer is.

At first it appeared that the plot of this novel would follow a fairly predictable path but it soon veered off into far more interesting territory involving the hopes and fears of the group of lifelong friends and colleagues that Joanne and her husband had been part of. She is forced to confront some unpleasant possibilities such as the notion her husband had been keeping secrets from her in the lead up to his death and even whether or not his death was something more sinister than a random killing. In doing this she uncovers more than one well hidden secret among the group of friends who were once all political colleagues who have a mixture of personal demons and professional troubles they are trying to hide.

In all her roles, as a college professor, mother of four, political activist and amateur sleuth Joanne manages to be both believable and sympathetic and I enjoyed meeting her. Amateur detectives normally stretch the bounds of credibility fairly early on but here both her motive for becoming involved in the investigation and her methodology made sense. She is the person with most to lose of the truth is not uncovered and she is also able to talk to her friends and her husband’s former colleagues in a way that police might not be able to. I’m not sure how this would play out in the 11 other books in the series (none of which I’ve read) but in this story anyway everything fell into place very well.

There are other well-drawn characters, including a couple on the nastier side of the psychological spectrum, and some lighter moments chiefly provided by Joanne’s cat-loving six-year old daughter Taylor, in this entertaining read. Aside from a little local politics there wasn’t a heck of a lot that made this book stand out as Canadian for me but it definitely stands out in the mystery stakes.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 3.5/5
Publisher McClelland & Stuart [this edition 1995, original edition 1994]
ISBN 9780771014833
Length 217 pages
Format mass market paperback
Source I mooched it

10 thoughts on “Review: A Colder Kind of Death by Gail Bowen

  1. Bernadette – Hmm…. a book about a mystery-solving professor. That gets my attention ;-). I know exactly what you mean, too, about characters who turn out to be more than they seem, and plot points that one thinks are going to be predictable – but aren’t. I like those in a novel, too. And it does sound as though Joanne is credible – another “plus.” It sounds like you found a good read here.

  2. Sounds quite interesting, Bernadette. I’d never have heard of this author/book without your review so thanks for the piece. Like Margot, I like books about professors!

  3. This sounds like a good read, perfect for a cold winter day. If I can find it, I will read it.

  4. Did you like this one enough to want to read others in this series? Also, curious to know where in Canada this book is set …

  5. @Wanda yes I would like to read more of this series – though I see there are 12 so far and I probably won’t get around to all of them! I have however put the latest one on my wishlist to see what’s happened to the characters since this book which was number 4 in the series. This book took place in several towns in Saskatchewan, Regina was one of them but I can’t remember the others.

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