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The Delicate Storm

by Giles Blunt

It’s almost a crime how beautiful Blunt’s prose is – you want to send in the fictional equivalent of forensic investigators to analyze his technique, to measure and tweeze and magnify until his sentence structures and dialogue give up their secrets. Two years ago, Blunt’s groundbreaking Forty Words for Sorrow treated readers to a gripping, cinematic sense of place and to a wonderful icy ribbon of a plot – not bad for a crime novel set in small-town Ontario that features a cop who is only two steps away from being a cliché. Somehow Blunt made it all elegant, thrilling, and immediate.

And now the lab reports are in for Blunt’s next effort, which again focuses on embattled detective John Cardinal. The new novel tests positive on Blunt’s descriptive skills, which are undiminished. You are preternaturally there with these characters, crunching across frozen parking lots, shivering at stakeouts in the woods – ordinary cop scenes that in the hands of a stylist like Blunt become means of ratcheting up suspense. The success of The Delicate Storm’s plot, however, is open to interpretation.

Cardinal and his team investigate a human arm lying in the bush; further investigation turns up more bear-mauled body parts, including a section of ear and scalp with aviator glasses still attached. The remains belong to a middle-aged American named Matlock, up in Lake Nipissing for a spot of ice fishing.

And maybe more: a CSIS agent informs Cardinal that Matlock was spying on Canadian military installations. But Cardinal discovers that a disinformation campaign is disguising the real story, which is that during the October Crisis Matlock was an RCMP mole in the FLQ. Old politics fold into new: The Delicate Storm plays out against the backdrop of a Tory convention, and like the best paranoid conspiracy thrillers, the story moves sinuously from long-ago cover-ups to present-day sleaze.

The first three quarters of the novel are well paced and just about pitch-perfect, until Blunt decides not to deliver the boffo ending implicit in the genre. Suspense levels plummet as clues point to an obvious suspect as the culprit. A final chase ends with an elliptical tete-à-tete between hunter and hunted, and the closing chapters’ concentration on Cardinal’s glum private life strike a muted note.

Blunt seems to be implying that human action doesn’t resolve itself into neat endings, but few thriller readers are satisfied with open-ended denouements. Most prefer their storms fully operational, delicate or not.