John Cardinal was originally assigned to the missing person's case of 13-year-old Katie Pine. Leads turned up no evidence of foul play, and, after an exhaustive search, Cardinal was told he had spent too much time and money on the case. As punishment, he was reassigned to work on burglary cases. The discovery of Katie Pine's mangled body sets him once again on the now-cold (literally and figuratively) trail of her murderer. The process of finding those responsible for her death, and the death of other children whose disappearance mirror Katie's is the path of Cardinal's vindication and absolution.
Cardinal is exactly the kind of protagonist a reader can relate to, yet pity. His interactions with his clinically depressed wife, his bright and talented daughter, and his would-be partner, Lise Delorme, are believably awkward, and his inner voice, rife, by turns, with turmoil, determination, and self-loathing, is painfully true. His need to find the killers is hypnotic; his quest becomes ours.
Blunt's decision to introduce us to the killers midway through the novel is a master stroke of suspense. Once we find out who they are, and we begin to understand their perverted obsessions, we become helpless voyeurs to their crimes.
Whether you're Canadian or from the Lower 48, it's well-nigh impossible not to become engrossed in this tale of serial killings in the dead of winter.
Giles Blount's first novel is a "captive"ating tale of the evil some men (and women) do. And the US reader learns something of Canadian Law Enforcement along the way. Are they referring to Notre Dame football? The Apocalypse? No. The "Horsemen" to which they refer, in a non-deferential tone, are the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
We are introduced to Detective John Cardinal who, we learn, had been obsessed with a number of cases of missing youths. Cardinal was sure the cases were related and could turn out to be more than just missing persons. His superiors disagreed and ended up taking him off the cases. When a body is found, it looks as though it could be one of the missing people, so Cardinal is rushed back onto the case again. The greatest fear of the Algonquin Police Department could actually be reality - they may have a serial killer in the city.
When Cardinal is reassigned to work the homicide, he is also given a new partner. Lise Delorme has come straight from Special Operations to help out on the case and, unknown to Cardinal, is secretly investigating him thinking he may have been tipping off a known criminal in return for payoffs.
Around halfway through the book we are introduced to the killer and get an insight into his world. The pace of the book suddenly steps up a notch as the two storylines begin to run in parallel to one another, comparing Cardinal's progress in the investigation with the actual focus of his attention.
Tension is heightened by allowing us to be privy to the killer's identity, particularly when he takes a new victim. The case then turns into a race against time.
I found this to be an excellent thriller combining a tight storyline and methodical detective work with a strong sub-plot that threatens to unravel the whole investigation. The uncertainty provided by this sub-plot was very effective in creating doubt in the reader's mind as to what the outcome could possibly be.
The pace picks up a bizarre momentum when the killer is brought into the narrative. His machinations always are two jumps ahead of the authorities, and he seems hopelessly invincible. This tale is for the steely of heart, for the violence is graphic and horrific. Yet there are light moments as when the police are questioning a well-known burglar and asking him about his known associates. Burglar says in tones of disgust "If I wanted to MEET people, I'd be a mugger." One of Cardinal's fellow detectives is a constant complainer, and his rants about everything from the Mounties to his ex-wife are brilliant, ferocious and unending.
"Forty Words For Sorrow" has an "it's not over till it's over" gambit that enchants me every time. The suspense becomes well nigh unbearable, and entirely unpredictable. I'd nominate this book for best title of the year and certainly one of the very good reads.