Tom Henighan has a way with words. And he has managed to combine that skill along with the key ingredient of suspense in his new crime novel from Dundurn Press, Nightshade. That can often be a tricky balancing act when it comes to mystery and crime writing.
Nightshade is Henighan’s first venture into the adult sector of this genre., His previous book, Doom Lake Holiday, was a teen mystery set in the Rideau Lakes district and proved to be popular with that age group. He also has two stand-alone mainstream novels, both short-listed for well-known literary awards. He is an Ottawa writer and editor.
Starting out in Ouebec City, Sam Montcalm, an Ottawa P.I. and the hero of the story, provides a travelogue of well-known streets and areas, all described with an artist’s touch to take the reader along for the walk.
The plot revolves around the genetic manipulation of trees, the topic at a scientific conference taking place in Quebec City. A delegate, the primary mover and shaker with a U.S. company heavily involved in research, is murdered. Montcalm is asked by a former girlfriend to help prove the innocence of her partner, Daniel, a First Nations artist whose paintings are a protest against nature’s destruction, who is accused of the crime. Then, a second murder occurs.
Of course, there’s a woman, and Montcalm’s track record should warn him to beware but he’s a wounded soul who is easily drawn in. Too bad she’s one of the scientists from California, and therefore a suspect.
As the minutes tick away before the conferences ends, the need to wrap up the case pushes the investigators into a race with the clock. The final scene is played out in the Gatineau Hills, as Montcalm must face the killer, an angry police presence, and his own shortcomings.
Sam Montcalm is a conflicted, middle-aged, tough, self-deprecating soul whose personal demons often get the best of him. But he’s also a guy who knows his classical music and enjoys the masters of fine art. As he struggles to come to terms with his past, he passionately fights for the cause of the First Nations, the environment, and justice.
Back to some of those words originally mentioned. Montcalm could very easily have found a job as a reviewer, as noted in his thoughts on attending a concert of Sibelius’ Tapiola:
They were plunged into the heart of the forest, and set on a journey, at first through open spaces, forest clearings, twisting paths. Quite quickly, however, everything complexified and at the same time closed in, as the single theme, repeated over and over, thrust them forward. Time and space interlocked; the environment was unchanging, yet infinitely varied. The damp earthen floor, the coiled roots of trees, the harsh rustle of leaves, air currents swirling and dying, shafts of bleak sunlight — all were almost tangible, as was the sense of a relentless fate, the implacable order of nature unfolding in a thousand variations.
And later, in a hotel hallway, he thinks:
The fine finish of everything, the plush carpets, the expensive furniture and mirrors, the well-dressed guests drifting nonchalantly by, all these gave him the deep-seated feeling that, whatever he was doing, it was all right. A man on his way to commit murder might even feel the same, he thought. That was the bad side of a fine decor, and why politicians worried about their TV makeup.
Out there was the big lake, a brilliant deep blue in the sunlight, and woods stretching away on all sides, the wilderness around making the houses and cottages look insignificant, almost absurd.
Tom Henighan has crafted a multi-layered story with a very human, very imperfect protagonist, a wonderful descriptive writing style, and a tale of crime and passion for our times
Linda Wiken, writer, editor (Mystery MavenCanada)