Detective duo turn to new class of thrills

Reluctant Dead, John Moss, Dundurn, paperback $11.99

It’s said everyone has one great book inside them. Sometimes I think this particularly applies to murder mystery writers. Many a crime series start with a marvellous mystery and a freshly conceived character or two to solve it, only to degenerate slowly as the inspired ideas fade and the quirky sleuths become just annoying.

John Moss seems to have striven mightily to prevent this decline, since his striking debut in 2008 with Still Waters, by taking his sleuths Quin and Morgan into radically different territory in each outing.

That first book had the sexually charged Toronto Police detectives ranging from this city’s posh neighbourhoods, like Rosedale and Wychwood Park, to the wilds of southwestern Ontario.

The followup, Grave Doubts, ramped up the sensuality in twisted fashion as the pair delved into bizarre deaths and rituals that hint at necrophilia among the intellectual set — hopefully not based on Moss’s own experiences as a university professor. At times, as the book’s duo romped through old houses and churches in Hoggs Hollow and in isolated locales across the province, the novel came close to becoming a gothic horror story.

With the current Reluctant Dead, Moss races into thriller country — or countries, as Quin and Morgan split up to investigate seemingly separate intrigues stretching from the South Pacific to Canada’s Baffin Island.

At first, this division of labour is disappointing because part of the appeal of the novels is the crackling tension between the two leads (did they? will they?) and their clever verbal exchanges that wander so far from the matters at hand that you gladly forget a crime is involved. But thankfully, after both have risked lives and limbs apart and managed their separate seductions in exotic circumstances, they join at home to put the escapades together and zero in on the guilty parties.

[attach]4769[/attach]I still don’t understand the ins and outs of the whole vast scheme. What’s more is the mystery writer’s broken prime directive of not introducing information in the solution that was previously hidden from the reader. But small matter, as the tale is entertaining all the way, whether or not you really get what’s going on.

And fortunately the sometimes-academic writing and borderline precious language of the second novel — intended perhaps to establish its specialized milieu — has been dropped in favour of straight-ahead and quite thrilling narration.

I still think the two cops refer much too knowledgeably to literature and diverse issues of arcane knowledge, but that is part of their charm.

In the annals of fictional crime detection, Quin and Morgan are unique. I can hardly wait to see where they’ll get to in the next instalment of their weird and wonderful careers.