A Lethal Lesson, by Iona Whishaw. Pub 2021
In Book 8 in the Lane Winslow series, the Darlings have returned from their honeymoon and are starting their lives together in King’s Cove when – of course – mysteries begin. As Christmas approaches, a local schoolteacher is found unconscious amidst the wreckage of her own house while another teacher and a local parent are missing. As the police tease out the details of these various crimes and misdemeanours, Lane tries (but fails) to stay out of the line of fire by taking on the teaching responsibilities for the last few weeks of the year.
This book has a lot going on, and I think suffers a bit from so many divergent and complex story lines. The back story for one of the teachers (the missing one), involving several confusing parental lines, an obscure strict religious (and bigamist) sect, some remarkable accomplishments for a runaway, and a gangster-politician plot line, could have made a novel all on its own. The story of the other teacher (the unconscious one) is perhaps similarly complex but is not explained nearly as well. The ultimate resolution of the plots and crimes feels rushed and somewhat unbelievable, and so less tidy than many of the previous books. I would also have enjoyed a bit more of the stories and lives of some other characters, especially Sergeant Ames and Constable Terrell; while integral to the police stories, there were tantalizing but insufficient glimpses and hints at the rest of their lives, and so another element that was unsatisfying.
Also less clear is the historical theme in the background. In previous books, Whishaw has drawn on some element of Canadian or BC history for part of the story, including women in WWII, Russian immigrants and Soviet spies, Home Children, displaced persons, racial and ethnic discrimination (several of the books touch on this), and the emancipation of women. While there are elements here that continue the emancipation theme, and some other elements related to this (threats of sexual violence for single women), the many details and plot elements necessary for the main story allow little room for anything else.
As with the past books, the ending includes a moment of poignancy that is so sweet and endearing that one can’t help but love Lane and Darling and their King’s Cove neighbours.
Unlike with past books, this one suffers from a lack of attention to detail, which I put as a flaw with the editing rather than the author; for example, on page 371, Darling is said to be thinking of Mrs. Devlin, when clearly he is thinking of Miss Keeling. I marked four instances where something was amiss to the point that I had to reread and flip back a few pages to make sure I hadn’t missed something. With the complexity of the story and timelines, these errors make for unnecessary confusion for the reader, and while none were major errors, they were distracting enough to note and a departure from the previous attention to detail in the previous books.
As the Darlings settle in for a quiet Christmas and New Years at home, one can imagine this being the end of the series. However (and thankfully) there is one more book and I’m already looking forward to diving into that one soon. What more can Lane get up to?
Fate: like all the earlier books, this one will be dispatched to a friend who is enjoying the series as much as I am.