REVIEW

MOUNTAINTOP DRIVE BY JAMES R. COGGINS

A Review By M. Wayne Cunningham



"Smyth, John Smyth - with a y instead of an i," is how middle-aged Canadian religious, magazine editor, John Smyth, introduces himself, sounding at times like a modern-day James Bond, at others like the balding, short-statured father of four that he is.

Smyth is the creation of Abbotsford British Columbia award-winning author, James R. Coggins, who has already led his unlikely but extremely likeable hero, Smyth and his red-haired wife, Ruby, through two harrowing mysteries, Who's Grace and Desolation Highway, both in Canadian settings, one in Winnipeg, the other along a BC highway.

Now John and Ruby have left their kids behind and travelled from their Winnipeg home and John's magazine office to cover a religious convention in Abbotsford, widely acknowledged as the Bible Belt of Canada, despite its record of almost as many murders as conversions. John's there to do a piece for his magazine, and Ruby's there to do what Ruby does best, to support John and act as his sounding board as he puzzles his way past criminal acts, clues and moral dilemmas, his own and the world's.

And in Abbotsford there are lots of all four to keep both of them busy and their readers fully engaged along with them.

Coming from modest backgrounds John and Ruby are surprised by the opulence around Dr. John Robinson, "one of the few real intellectuals in the Grace Evangelical Church," the church where he preaches and his home where John and Ruby are staying temporarily. And there's more than the wealth of Robinson's church and home that they find unsettling. What about the secrecy surrounding the death of Robinson's wife just months earlier? And what about an even more recent death of a female neighbour and the mysterious bloody message she left on the underside of a coffee table? And why does Robinson disappear and where to when suspicions get raised about him? There are other worries for John and Ruby too as they compare Robinson's church and congregation to another one on a seamier side of town. Their oldest teenaged son is acting up at home and getting in with the wrong crowd. They learn that another Abbotsford neighbour is running a drug grow-op. They listen to a convicted murderer confess his sins at a church service, and they mull over murder clues like the bloody message and its Biblical inferences, like the two books at the scene along with a business card, like the red minivan seen leaving the area with a teenaged driver, like the nearby blood-smeared garden hose and the size eleven pair of shoes "with significant traces of blood on them," and the fingerprints for which, "you'd never guess whose they were." But what they don't know, even though the readers do, is that John, despite his sometimes bumbling attempts to help the police, is himself a major suspect.

As John philosophically advises, however, "Collect the pieces before you try to put the puzzle together." Which is just what he and Ruby do so well so that in the end the puzzle of the murder and the bloody message is solved and James R. Coggins' readers have again been royally entertained by Smyth with a 'y' instead of an 'i' and another of his stellar stories that mix religion, social issues and murder. A book and a series highly recommended to be read.


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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