Framed in Fire, by Iona Whishaw. Pub 2022
Book 9, the most recent in the series, picks up almost where the previous one left off. It is spring 1948, and (once again) Lane meets a stranger, discovers a body, and gets embroiled in mysteries.
SPOILER ALERT: if you haven’t yet read this or previous books and are planning to at some point, please avert your eyes until the final paragraph of this post.
While visiting her Russian friend from book #2, she meets Tom Simpson from what is now called the Sinixt Nation (in the book, he refers to this as the Lakes People). Tom, and indeed any First Nations person, is an anomaly in late 40’s Nelson area. Lane being Lane, she seeks to learn and understand about the peoples that used to be in what is now her home.
After discovering a long-since buried corpse in her friend’s garden, Darling and the police begin the work to try to identify him. This while they are also dealing with what appears to be anti-immigrant violence in Nelson, a strange robbery at the local bookstore, and gossip about bribery that threatens Darling’s career. The story moves back and forth in time, revisiting past families and scandals in Nelson and the history of Simpson’s family and his people. Eventually, all of the threads come together, and all mysteries are solved in nearly a single (albeit lengthy) swoop.
As with Book 8, the complex back-stories and red herrings, as well as the numerous new characters, make it challenging to follow the overall story. It also makes the timeline difficult, as there are many switches back and forth, even in the present-day parts, that become hard to keep track of. There are sections where hardly any time really passes because there is so much detail given of the three main stories and several back-stories that one can lose track of where the main mysteries are at. Missing from this book as well is the historical context element that was so expertly woven into previous stories. In the Simpson story line, there is some effort to link to the history of native North Americans and residential schools, but these are only briefly included, and someone without present day knowledge of these issues would find the mentions of them here confusing and unenlightening.
I found it unfortunate that the ultimate resolution of things a) could not possibly have been solved by the reader as there is (despite the aforementioned surfeit of detail) insufficient information to suss it out and b) the conclusion relies on at least one person having had a psychotic break and/or being just generally psychotic, a solution that feels unworthy of Whishaw’s more human and humane solutions in previous stories.
Whishaw tries to keep the stories of both main and minor characters flowing throughout all of these mysteries, but ultimately these feel slighted by the sheer volume of everything else going on. Since this entire story takes place just six months after Lane and Darling’s wedding (which happened three books ago), perhaps it is unrealistic to have expected much progress in the other romances of Ames and Tina and of Terrell and April, but I was looking forward to more advancement of those.
At one point, I found myself wondering, “what the heck is Lane up to?” as we go many pages and chapters sometimes without hearing much of her. When she does appear, she is uncharacteristically domestic and removed from the action, focusing on her household work and learning to cook, and occasionally writing a poem that then remains unfinished. She continues to have moments of secrecy and doubt, this time about not confiding in Darling about her recurring nightmares. Her, “I don’t want to worry him” and “he might stop loving me if I tell him this or if I don’t tell him that” thoughts get a bit tiresome at times, and combined with her withdrawal from activity in general undermine the very emancipatory nature of her character from previous books. Her reemergence in the climax of this story felt forced, given that she was so separate from it throughout the rest of the book.
At a whopping 480 pages, I think I’m correct in calling this the longest book in the series so far, and I feel it suffered from a lack of focus in that volume. I think this book is more flawed than any of the previous ones (of which only #8 had anything significant wrong), partly due to the unwieldy complexity of the story but also from less than judicious (or careful) editing, especially near the end of the book.
- There is a scene near the end with Lane and Darling visiting the restaurant and meeting several other characters who just happen to also be there, a circumstance that felt both contrived and unnecessary; the ensuing conversation is reminiscent of the last scene of a sitcom where the characters sum up the episode with banter and laughter, which here is uncharacteristic of each and all of them.
- There is also a very long chapter near the end with Terrell recapping at length to Ames the entire lengthy proceedings of the story. In a book with so much detail already and where the reveals have already long since happened, this type of summary is wholly unnecessary; it could have saved several dozen pages to say, “while visiting with Ames, Terrell brought him up to date on the conclusion of the various cases.”
I recall having a similar reader experience with the Outlander series. I enjoyed the first few books, but after that the books became denser with detail and characters – shorter time periods covered in much longer books that became tedious and soap opera-like. I fear the same for the Winslow series, with the charm the King’s Cove community and the sweetness of the stories and romances being supplanted in the most recent books by complex mysteries, social commentary rather than historical context, and a sitcom-like approach to resolution. I hope that I’m wrong. Regardless, I look forward now to future stories that will hopefully focus back on the characters we know and love and give Lane more to do than tend to her kitchen and garden.
Fate: like all the earlier books, this one will be dispatched to a friend who is enjoy the series as much as I am.