STAIN OF THE BERRY
BY ANTHONY BIDULKA

Review by Sandra Ruttan


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, Sereena.

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 their life.

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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