"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
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
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 email@example.com.
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