THE LAST GOOD DAY
BY GAIL BOWEN

Review by M. Wayne Cunningham


Saskatchewan author Gail Bowen's grande dame of amateur sleuthing, Regina-based Joanne Kilbourn, is on summer vacation from her political science professorship at the local university. But wherever Jo goes, as we know from Bowen's eight earlier entertaining novels, murder and malice are always right on her heels. So here they are dogging her sandals at the Lawyers' Bay gated cottage community as she, her 10-year-old adopted daughter Taylor, teenaged son Angus, his girl friend, Leah Drache, and addle-brained family pooch, Willie, get set to enjoy the lake. But Jo has hardly towelled off after her first swim before Chris Altieri, one of the best and brightest in the law firm of Falconer Shreve, is confessing he has committed an unforgivable sin. Shortly afterwards his MGB roars off a boat ramp into the lake, and despite the heroic efforts of Jo and Angus to rescue him, he drowns. So the stage is set for the fifty-five-year old widow to launch into her ninth adventure, this time to discover what a successful middle-aged lawyer could have done that was so unforgivable. And of course, to resolve the resulting train of strung out mysteries as well. There is an abortion, for example, and the mystery of who was pregnant. And where is the woman lawyer who has disappeared from Falcon Shreve? And why are her colleagues apparently covering up her disappearance? And why is head honcho, the wheel chair ridden, Zack Shreve, so interested in Jo’s last conversation with Chris? Then too there are the break-ins at Jo's cottage and an internal investigation on the local police force that involves the missing woman and two close friends of Jo’s.

Bowen has made her name as a first class mystery writer not only because her protagonist can sort Saskatchewan wheat from chaff but also because Jo is truly likable. In all of her adventures, there are dogs to be walked, young kids to be cuddled, older ones to be counselled, friendships to be maintained and daily drudgery to be coped with. At Lawyers' Bay, for example, Jo hovers around Taylor and her two friends Gracie and Isobel as they giggle about boys, discuss their parents’ peccadilloes and construct a stone Inukshuk that opens up the history of the Northern Inuit but also plays a major role in the resolution of the plot. Then too, although Angus and Leah are busy managing the local store that serves Jo as a focal point for local history and clue-gathering gossip, they still need Jo’s occasional help and advice. And, of course, there's older daughter, Mieka and granddaughter Maddy. They live in Saskatoon where their home is a haven for domesticity as Jo visits the nearby university to uncover new facts for her current case.

Besides the new people she meets at various times, including some sexually intimate moments with Zack Shreve, old friends reappear too. Sometimes they are in memories like the happy ones of her dead husband, also a lawyer and politician, or in the much sadder ones of her former best friend, the artist who was Taylor's birth mom. Another old friend, Detective Robert Hallam appears at her doorstep to tell her that her aboriginal ex-boyfriend, Inspector Alex Kequahtooway, of all people, may have been derelict in his duty to investigate various aspects of the missing woman's case. A group of the woman's friends make the allegation too, which adds to the emotional blow Alex dealt her and her family when, several months earlier, he left her without explanation for another woman she now accidentally learns is an aboriginal employee at Falconer Shreve, and not without her own problems and mysteries as well.

But setbacks in solving mysteries or in coping with an emotional crisis or two, even several at a time, never hold Jo back for very long. Unfortunately, though, this time other people, even long-time friends, do get held back, and in the most fatal and surprising of fashions. But with the rest of the summer ahead of them to recuperate, the resilient Jo and her robust family, including walk-loving Willie, will undoubtedly be relaxed and ready for their forthcoming tenth adventure. And so will we.


ABOUT THE REVIEWER

M. Wayne Cunningham writes his reviews in Kamloops BC. Formerly an English instructor and a senior manager in post-secondary education in three provinces he also served as the Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Arts Board. A member of the Crime Writers of Canada and the Canadian Authors Association, his reviews have appeared in various publications including a weekly column he wrote for two years for the Kamloops Daily News. He can be reached at mw_cunningham@telus.net


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