I’m counting this as the last book on the North American leg of my Global Reading challenge as well as the first stop on my Canadian Book Challenge which measures progress in terms of mountain peaks climbed so I have reached Glen Valley in Prince Edward Island (142m high).
Having settled into country life and new marriage to his next door neighbour, Arthur Beauchamp is enjoying retirement from a long and distinguished career as a criminal lawyer and Queens Counsel. However a particular April Fool’s day is destined to shake up Arthur’s new life on Garibaldi Island in British Columbia. Firstly one of his former clients, jewel thief Nick Faloon, is accused of the rape and murder of a relationship counsellor. Arthur feels an obligation to become involved in his defense because he still feels guilty about unsuccessfully defending Faloon against charges for a crime he did not commit some years earlier. On the same day Arthur’s wife Margaret, a staunch activist in their rural community, takes up residence in a tree house which has been constructed in the canopy of the area’s old-growth forest which is under threat from developers. Arthur is pressured to become involved in the legal side of the protest too.
This book is brimming with a wry, observational humour about the collection of lovable and/or odd characters that seem to inhabit tight-knit communities everywhere. Arthur is an unusual character for crime fiction being 68 and suffering from an odd assortment of self-doubts despite his successful career and happy home life. I really enjoyed his willingness to do the right thing even when he’d rather not have done and the credible way he explored his doubts about his relationship with his wife. I did groan though at the stereotypical needing someone else (i.e. a woman) to do even the simplest of household chores like turning on a washing machine.
In the city Arthur is assisted in his defense of Faloon by a colleague from his former law firm whose marriage is falling apart and Lotis, a young woman activist and law student. Although neither of them is the most reliable of people between them they do come through when it matters and they provide a lot of laughs along the way. Back home there are a plethora of characters to enjoy including the smelly poet who first shares the tree house with Margaret and near-criminals Stoney and Dog who do everything from build swimming pools to running the community’s taxi service (often with vehicles they’ve ‘borrowed’ from those they’re driving around). Nick Faloon has a relatively minor role but he too offers humour and engenders a surprising feeling of warmth towards him given he is an admitted thief.
At first I thought the mysterious element of the book was going to take a back seat to the character studies and environmental message but while it was slow to get going for the last two-thirds of the book this element is solidly imaginative and the resolution is both surprising and credible. Legal procedurals are not my favourite kind of reading but I enjoyed the way this case unfolded in court with first one side then the other seeming to have the advantage as different pieces of evidence came to light. The addition of even more quirky characters, such as the ultra-nervous clerk and the judge who is a stickler for punctuality add to the readability.
April Fool certainly offers a sense of its remote, environmentally sensitive location. I’m less sure that there was anything particularly Canadian about the setting as I could imagine similar events taking place in parts of Tasmania or any of the world’s other environmentally endangered remote locations but there could well have been some local nuances that I was oblivious to. Regardless of this the author has done a great job of depicting the passion and ingenuity involved in low-budget activism.
The book could have done with a bit tighter editing, perhaps a few less characters and one fewer red-herring thread in the legal case, but overall it was an enjoyable and unpredictable read. Its humour, setting, characters and solid plot make it the sort of reading most crime fiction fans will enjoy, especially those looking for a book with minimal blood and gore.
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My rating 3.5/5
Publisher McClelland and Stewart ; ISBN 9780771027154; Length 436 pages
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April Fool has been reviewed at Crime Watch