Corporal James Vaanes has returned to his peaceful hometown on Vancouver Island, a place he left nearly two decades earlier, to investigate major crimes. Juggling his new investigation team with his estranged family and deep rooted prejudice, Vaanes is forced into the spotlight when a young Aboriginal woman is murdered under his watch. The disturbing discovery divides the tight knit community and plunges Vaanes into a web of tangled secrets that lead to unsolved cases in his past.
Warnings: Racial stereotypes, use of slurs, violence against women, cheating
Cordelia is the first in a trilogy of police procedural murder mystery novels. It follows the RCMP detective James Vaanes as he investigates the murder of one young woman, and the subsequent disappearances of two others. While it’s hard in the current climate of ACAB to read police machismo, the mystery is well done and it’s very heavy on neat investigation tropes.
I liked the writing style a lot, especially given how easy it would be for this kind of quieter, less action-oriented, clue-finding story to become dull. The author manages to keep the pace moving along enough that it’s never a stale read, and the mystery takes several twists and turns across a few different red herrings, enough to be engaging. However, it has a serious racial stereotyping problem. About two thirds of the way into the book, we are introduced to a handful of Chinese-Canadian characters, who come complete with very stereotypical broken English accents and who are suspected as being spies for the Chinese government. This immediately put me off the book, but even though this doesn’t show up until two thirds in, there are previous instances throughout of rather questionable treatment and language surrounding the First Nations characters as well. It was a shame in an otherwise well plotted and written story that the author for some reason felt the need for this kind of racially insensitive content.
James Vaanes is a very typical cop character, in that he embodies the kind of self assured machismo that we often see from such characters in film and television. He is made from the cop show mold through and through, and readers will either find that kind of “charming asshole” attractive or incredibly annoying. He is a very “act first, think later” kind of wild card cop archetype, which gets him in trouble with the boss but always ends up working in the end, so nothing we haven’t seen before. His family life is explored in tandem to the investigation he is conducting, and the story makes efforts to explore his past and the broken familial relationships that he is currently trying to mend. I found him to be mostly an asshole, but I liked seeing the story weave together his various relationships- familial, romantic, and antagonistic. Of course the story can suffer from main character syndrome; not many other characters are nearly as well established or explored, and there are several women in the story who all function as pretty well interchangeable with the exception of the sexy femme fatal.
This story takes place in Campbell River, BC. I haven’t read much Canadian-set fiction, so this setting was a nice change of pace. Very neat to see a smaller town locale instead of, like, New York or something. Of course in order to really explore this setting, the author needed to do a little more than just say where it was set, and as such it tries to explore a lot of the First Nations culture of the area, to varying degrees of actual success. Vaanes is half First Nations himself, and so the author does try to explore this aspect of his character as well as the city around him, but the depiction ends up coming off extremely stereotypical and less sensitive than it should have. Bigotry is a common theme from the ‘bad guys’ of the story, which is perhaps not unrealistic but also perhaps not handled as well as it could have been. The author did make the attempt, but I would imagine having a sensitivity reader would have been incredibly beneficial for him.
There is a bit of sex in this book, as we have an alluring femme fatal character who works as an intelligence agent and swoops into the narrative to bring a bit of spice, both in the form of adding some espionage to the investigation mix, and of course- some sex. These passages are written fairly well, and they manage to convey a lot of the passion and spontaneity of hook-up sex. I do wish that Vaanes didn’t have a girlfriend to be cheating on for this, however, as I consider cheating narratives to not only be distressing to read personally, but also narratively lazy ways to obtain drama. It would have been more interesting if he was falling for his RCMP partner at the same time as hooking up with the spy lady, but that’s just my own take. I liked the way the author wrote the scenes, in the end, even if the archetype of the seductive spy woman is a bit overplayed.
Altogether this book was disappointing because it had so much potential to be so much better than it is. If the author had made more of an effort to address sensitive subjects with a little more tact, it could have been a very good book, especially given that he writes a mystery very well. It even ends on a cliffhanger that, had it not been for the racist aspects of the book, would have had me looking for book 2. Swing and a miss, I’m afraid.
Have you read Cordelia? Let me know what YOU thought by leaving me a comment!