Fresh Meat: The Storm Murders by John Farrow

The Storm Murders by John Farrow is the first procedural thriller in a planned trilogy featuring the retired Montreal detective Emile Cinq-Mars (available May 26, 2015).

Who was it that said the colder the climate, the more are the mysteries? Montreal, Canada sits at a latitude south of Paris while those Nordic cities many consider a current hub of crime fiction lie more than fifteen degrees further north. Yet southern Canada generates its share of good reads. Louise Penny and Alan Bradley are just two of the Canadian authors well known south of the border. Playwright and novelist Trevor Ferguson may come less often to mind, possibly because several of his novels appear under nom de plume John Farrow. His latest novel under Farrow’s name, The Storm Murders, is the first in a new trilogy featuring Émile Cinq-Mars, his recently retired Montreal city detective.

There is no mistaking this book for one of its Nordic cousins, however, despite the snow and cold that open the story. Its Canadian sensibility is as much a character within as the weather. Witness this exchange when Cinq-Mars encounters a thief in the jewelry store where he needs to drop off the requisite retirement watch for repair since it’s still under warranty:

“Hi, there,” he said.

“You old fuck, get out of my way,” sneered the thief, a belligerent, unwary lad.

Old. Cinq-Mars hoped the guy didn’t recognize him and therefore wasn’t submitting a comment on his retirement. Standing in the doorway of the slightly subterranean shop, a step up from the miscreant, his six-foot-three-inch frame towered above the imp who stood at a chubby five-seven. He could stare down the immensity of his impressive nose and assume that that would have an intimidating effect upon the man nervously, if defiantly, gazing up at him.

“How’re you doing?” he asked. From his pocket he withdrew a stick of gum—the miscreant flinched—casually unwrapped it, folded the stick in half to more easily drop it into his mouth, and did so. “My name’s Émile Cinq-Mars. What’s yours?”

Such may be the detective’s natural approach when it comes to fellow Canadians, but he raises his guard when it comes to anyone in law enforcement, particularly several nosy neighbors from the south. This makes for rewarding reading—interactions play out in ways that city police-FBI meetings in intra-American novels never would. They deepen the story as they expose characters who all seem suspect. The inherent cultures of both the New Orleans Police Department and FBI are used to effect, driving the plot in ways that surprise before they reveal. Most of the characters that embody these other agencies of the law heighten the conflict in believable ways. One in particular, NOPD Detective Pascal Dupree is most welcome to make further appearances, perhaps in the second and third books of this planned trilogy? His scenes with Cinq-Mars provide the most engaging repartee in the book.

Cinq-Mars himself supplies a satisfying mix of action and intellect. When his investigation takes him to the Big Easy and all hell breaks loose—Cinq-Mars discovers his wife missing as his own life is endangered—the detective has no idea who he can trust. Now, imagine an American investigator at that moment kneeling to pray …

He prayed.

Like detective work, he believed, prayer required the proper approach. Both activities had to be ingenious. Each engaged the unknown, demanded the whole of one’s experience and intelligence, vitality and intuition. Ultimately, the detective or supplicant had to go it alone, no matter how many colleagues were brought in to investigate a crime or how many penitents submitted upon their knees. Humility was key to both endeavors, patience a virtue, honesty a prerequisite that would inevitably become an ongoing adventure of self-discovery. Cinq-Mars was never convinced that one could be done without the other, for even in prayer one needed to investigate, stay attuned, struggle to unravel the secrets and deepest mysteries in order for the act to be increasingly more true to oneself, and therefore more viable. Conversely, in balancing his way through a difficult inquiry into a complex crime, he inevitably needed to stretch himself out and summon the intricacies of the cosmos to have a look, to suggest possibilities, probabilities, improbabilities, chaos and string theory galore to get his mind around fresh core discoveries. Just as the conditions that predated the beginning of time had engaged thinkers and cosmologists for centuries, and theories continue to unfold, any inquiry into a crime shared that mindset:  What was life like the instant before all hell broke loose? And before that, what exactly?

With thought-provoking passages such as this threaded throughout The Storm Murders, one might be forgiven for struggling to recall what life was like before this particular detective entered one’s mind. For this reader, Cinq-Mars is there to stay.

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Kate Lincoln writes crime fiction informed by her years in clinical medicine and as a homeopath and EMT, most of which is set in New Jersey horse country called the Somerset Hills.

See all of Kate Lincoln’s posts for Criminal Element.

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