Friday, May 5, 2017

Review: SNOW JOB

SNOW JOB by William Deverell (McClelland & Stewart, 2009)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Arthur Beauchamp has followed his wife, the leader and first elected member of the Green Party, to Ottawa. 

But he hates it there: the cold, the politics, and his place in his wife’s shadow. So when a delegation of government officials from Bhashyistan is blown sky high on Bronson Avenue and the shares of a Calgary-based oil company promptly drop like a stone, Arthur is only too happy to jump to the defence of the missing suspected assassin. 

Deverell’s latest Arthur Beauchamp novel cranks the wily old lawyer’s adventures up several notches, and then some. It’s wildly imaginative, utterly Canadian, and irresistibly funny.

I've been a big fan of William Deverell's crime novels ever since I met him at a Vancouver Library event back in early 2008, and grabbed a copy of APRIL FOOL, which had won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel (the Canadian crime writing award).

It took me a little while to settle into Deverell's style when I read that book - it's different to most other crime fiction - but once I did I really loved the adventures of Arthur Beauchamp, a Denny Crane-esque trying-to-be-retired legal legend. Deverell melds quirky characters, witty dialogue, contemporary themes, satire, crime, and literary touches into a richly authentic Canadian setting.

SNOW JOB is the fourth of trial lawyer turned novelist Deverell's six Beauchamp books (out of 18 novels in total since 1979), and in this one the man many consider the doyen of Canadian crime writing really ramps up the satirical touches. There's a madcap sort of feel to the book, which I found really enjoyable but may be a bit marmite-y for some crime fans (ie you love it or hate it).

Arthur Beauchamp is a terrific character. He's a bit of a bumbler in everyday life, a semi-retired lawyer living on a farmlet on Garibaldi Island, who gets himself into all sorts of misadventures. But inside a courtroom he's peerless, even if he starts to doubt his abilities as he ages. There's just something incredibly lovable about old Arthur, and the cast of misfits who surround him.

SNOW JOB just screams Canada too - from the weather to the politics to the cities and their citizens. It often seems that Deverell has his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, but there's a sense of love beneath the satire as the crime plot rumbles along. Along with twice winning Canada's top crime writing prize for his Beauchamp series, Deverell has won the very prestigious Hammett Prize for literary excellence in crime writing, and prizes for humorous writing. That resume gives you a good sense of the melting pot that is a Beauchamp book - there's courtroom thriller aspects, humour of a variety of shades, politics, and a lovely literary style that is readable but also intelligent.

This one sees Arthur in the cold of Ottawa rather than his beloved Garibaldi Island off the coast of British Columbia, as well as travelling to Eastern Europe, so there are a few new tweaks. If I'm brutally honest, SNOW JOB may not be my favorite read of the Beauchamp series, but that's just because Deverell sets the bar so high. I still thoroughly enjoyed it, and would recommend it.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for leading magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed more than 180 crime writers, discussed crime writing onstage at arts and literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, on national radio, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

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