The boogeyman is gonna get you.
That’s the premise behind STAIN OF THE BERRY, the
fourth Russell Quant Mystery by Canadian author Anthony
Bidulka. Strange things were happening to Tanya Culinare
before her suspicious death, and Tanya’s family is
determined to find some answers. They hire Russell to investigate.
As the case unfolds a number of other people connected to
Tanya become involved. They are either dead or experiencing
the same kind of harassment Tanya was before her death.
Bidulka’s stories are about more than just the latest
investigation his PI protagonist is working on. This story
is as much about Russell’s angst over turning thirty-five
and his personal search for his missing neighbor and friend,
Bidulka’s characterization is excellent. He has a
way of nailing a person with a few words to evoke a strong
mental image. There’s also an underlying wit and optimism
to the book. The case is not all-consuming, and does not
detract Russell from his life – in fact, life seems
to have an equal share in the story. As a result the translation
to the reader is that it’s not a very dark story.
Moments of suspense and surprise are interspersed with many
moments of joy, humour and opportunities to check out guys.
This is not my typical type of read, but it is one I really
enjoyed. Russell Quant is a refreshing change of pace. There’s
a fundamental goodness to him, and as I said before, an
optimism that underlies the story that reassures the reader
that things will be okay for our hero.
I had only a few issues with the story. Russell is a bit
trusting for a former cop and a PI investigating a suspicious
death, particularly since more than one suspicious death
is involved. He finally catches up with one person he wants
to talk to and then, instead of pushing the person for answers
right away, agrees to meet up the next day. Of course, our
elusive suspect has vanished. At one point Russell tracks
down two people, only really, they’ve caught him.
Their initial presumption is that Russell is the person
who’s been harassing them. There are a couple things
about that which don’t add up, at least where Ritchie
is concerned. These are two people who were scared to death,
enough for one of them to get a few friends together and
assault Russell. However, with relatively few words from
Russell and no physical proof they decide to trust him.
Ritchie claims someone tried to kill him, yet whoever answered
Ritchie’s phone easily told Russell where to find
Ritchie, and didn’t even ask Russell his name. Another
very trusting soul. It’s the things like this that
contribute to that sense of optimism, and while the book
maintains a solid amount of suspense, these moments keep
it from crossing the line to nail-biting suspense. Russell
Quant doesn’t seem to be a guy who gets suspicious
easily, or one to let his concerns keep him from having
a good time when out with friends.
And Ritchie claims he checked Russell out and that he knew
Russell was a PI, yet only a few minutes before admitting
that he was convinced Russell was the one threatening his
life. However, it is possible to chalk it all up to irrational
acts and logic of a person under the stress of fearing for
I do feel I should make an observation. Since I believe
my job here is to provide enough information for people
to decide if a book would be to their taste, this is strictly
included for that purpose. I have not read all of the Russell
Quant mysteries, so I cannot say this is true for all of
them, only this book: In the same way that readers refer
to the settings of books as characters, Russell’s
sexuality is as much a character in this story as he is.
This may be heightened in this book because the case involves
threats against members of the gay community. However, the
overwhelming majority of the characters are gay and the
storyline touches on possible prejudices against people
because of their sexuality.
This book is not filled with descriptive sex scenes – in
fact, there’s little sex at all and it is primarily
off camera – so I hope people won’t confuse
my point. I have read other stories where sexual orientation
was a critical factor of the plot and the protagonist was
gay, but I have never read one where the majority of the
characters were openly gay. As a result there is always
the sense throughout the storyline that the issue of sexuality
is very important. It is a central theme to the book.
As I said, that’s strictly an observation. I wouldn’t
call this a cozy, but I would classify this as a mainstream
mystery with an engaging protagonist and an exceptionally
well drawn cast of characters that intrigue and captivate
the reader. Gay or straight they all entertain. Bidulka
is a talented author worth seeking out. For more information
about Anthony Bidulka and the Russell Quant books, check
out my interview with Anthony in this issue.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Sandra Ruttan's debut novel, Suspicious Circumstances, was released
in January 2007. Her short fiction has appeared in Out of
the Gutter, Demolition, Mouth Full
of Bullets, Crimespree Magazine, The
Cynic and Spinetingler. For more information
visit her website.
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2007 SPINETINGLER Magazine - All rights reserved