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Standing in the Whale’s Jaw

Standing in the Whale’s Jaw
A novel by Kathy-Diane Leveille
Tightrope Books (2013)

Reviewed by Michelle Brunet

Kathy-Diane Leveille makes rural New Brunswick, 1935, an enticing setting for a murder mystery.

Her second suspense novel, Standing in the Whale’s Jaw, centres around 15-year old Elsa Byrd, a strong girl wise beyond her years. Elsa and her mom have relocated from Saint John to her grandparents’ farm; her father Hal has been admitted to a tuberculosis sanatorium. As mother and daughter attempt to adapt to country life—coloured by what probably is a more palpable case of “women should know their place”—a body of a young girl is discovered, found dead inside a floating dory.

Local authorities—including Elsa’s grandfather, a doctor who fills in as medical examiner—initially suspect accidental drowning. As the investigation progresses, it’s determined it was no accident at all. In fact, evidence suggests a chain of similar murders, and more chillingly, a serial killer in their midst.

Murder mystery enthusiasts will be completely satiated. Leveille has brilliantly concocted scenarios where several individuals make plausible suspects. Anticipation is enhanced with snapshots of flashbacks and contemporaneous happenings—some ethereal—adding to the mystique of the time. It is not until the end that the killer’s identity is revealed, all with the satisfaction of credible surprise.

Leveille has also established a cast of intriguing characters, each with their idiosyncrasies and moments of dark and light: from Mr. Parish, who is slightly reminiscent of Emily Brontë’s Heathcliff, to Elsa’s mentor, Lavinia Twigg, who is refreshingly independent for her time and serves as forensic photographer during the investigation.

It would have been nice if the story delved a little deeper into Lavinia and Elsa’s relationship, as well into Elsa’s and her grandmother’s. Miriam’s otherworldly visions hinted at, but never truly revealed, the bond she had with her teenage granddaughter. A solution to this critique, which also speaks to the strength of Leveille’s prose: a sequel or even a series of books would be most welcome!

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