Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"The Nesting Dolls"

Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn mysteries have made her one of Canada’s most popular crime writers. The first book in the series, Deadly Appearances (1990), was nominated for the W.H. Smith/Books in Canada award for best first novel. Bowen has also written five plays that have been produced across Canada, and several of her mysteries have been made into TV movies starring Wendy Crewson as Joanne.

Bowen applied the Page 69 Test to The Nesting Dolls, the 12th Joanne Kilbourn mystery, and reported the following:
Two significant themes are introduced on page 69. One is the love between Joanne Kilbourn and her husband, Zack Shreve, a brilliant hard-hitting paraplegic trial lawyer who has, in the words of his doctor, lived like an 18-year-old with a death wish until his marriage to Joanne, two years earlier. Zack has a great lust for life, but he is fifty-one years old, and Joanne is aware that the average time between a trial lawyer’s first court appearance and his or her first coronary is 20 years.

Joanne notes that “During the early months of our marriage our most serious quarrels had centred on Zack’s determination to shut me out when his body betrayed him and my determination not to be shut out… I convinced him that caring for one another’s bodies could be a sensual pleasure…but despite his promises to cut back, his hours were long and there were mornings when after his customary five hours of sleep, he awoke grey and drawn. This morning was one of them, but I had long since learned not to comment.”

The second theme centres on the identity of the woman who walks into a Christmas concert, hands her 6-month-old son over to teenaged Isobel Wainberg, daughter of one of Zack’s law partners, and disappears into a blizzard. Zack is at the event snapping pictures of his stepdaughter and her friends and he unwittingly photographs the tableau.

On page 69, the Shreves are looking at the morning paper. The picture of Abby Michaels on the front page is one Zack took at the concert Saturday afternoon. The headline beneath it is stark: “MOTHER MISSING”.

Joanne characterizes the story about the missing woman as “standard journalism…the five W’s and one H with no answers to why and how and a deliberate obfuscation of who. The search for the answer to these questions drives the plot of The Nesting Dolls.

In Talking About Detective Fiction, P.D. James discusses the mystery author’s challenge to pick a victim that readers will care about who is “powerfully alive” to readers and for whom there is a good reason to be murdered. As readers learn about Abby Michaels, the term “Mother Missing” gains a powerful resonance. There is hurt in her violent death and in the dark secret that brought about her death.
Read an excerpt from The Nesting Dolls, and learn more about the book and author at Gail Bowen's website and blog.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue