Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Today’s PI novels range from light novels with fun in them to the darkest of noir stories and from basically upbeat stories to the very bleakest of hardboiled. It’s an extremely diverse sub-genre and it’s been an important part of the crime fiction scene for a long time. Today let’s take a closer look at one of today’s fictional PI sleuths Jill Edmondson’s Sasha Jackson. Let’s turn the spotlight on the first Sasha Jackson novel Blood and Groom.
Jackson is a former Toronto rock singer who’s recently opened her own PI agency and is trying to build up her business. One day she gets a visit from Christine Arvisais, who wants her to take on a murder case. Right from the start Jackson heartily dislikes her new client. Arvisais is rude, self-entitled, snooty and obnoxious. Besides, Jackson’s more accustomed to doing background checks on potential employees with occasional forays into finding out whether a spouse or partner is cheating. So she’s not exactly sure how she’ll start looking into a murder case. But she’s glad for the business so she takes the case. Arvisais then tells her the story of the murder.
Arvisais’ former fiancé, ‘blueblood’ Gordon Hanes, was shot on the day that was supposed to be their wedding day and his body found in a ravine. Arvisais says that the two broke up before the wedding so it was cancelled. Still, she claims she’s innocent and can prove an alibi. She’s upset though because everyone still suspects her of the murder, most especially Hanes’ cousin Rebecca Blackmore. Arvisais says she wants Jackson to find the real murderer so her name will be cleared. With that background as a beginning, Jackson begins to ask questions.
It’s not long before she discovers that Arvisais isn’t the only one with a motive for murder. The more she digs into Hanes’ history and that of some of his family members, the more she finds that several members of that family have ‘dirty laundry’ that they don’t want aired. And then Arvisais herself isn’t exactly being forthright. Jackson discovers that her client’s alibi is solid enough, but it’s still possible for her to have arranged for the murder and she could have had a good motive. Jackson also discovers some financial dealings that aren’t exactly above-board and that could be behind Hane’s murder. Then there’s another murder. There are enough similarities between that murder and Hanes’ that Jackson begins to wonder whether they’re connected. If they are, she’s going to have to do more digging to find out what the two victims had in common. With help from several friends and acquaintances, plus plenty of digging on her own, Jackson finds out the truth about Gordon Hanes’ death and the other murder. She also finds out how that death is connected to the other shady secrets she’s uncovered.
This is a PI novel, so we follow along as Jackson finds creative ways to get access to witnesses and information. It’s an interesting look at how modern private investigators go about their work. For instance, at one point she’s looking into Rebecca Blackmore’s past. Having gotten a little information from a surreptitious search of Blackmore’s handbag, here’s what Jackson does with it:
‘I called the first airline for which Rebecca had a frequent flyer card. “Yeah, I just want to know my points balance.”
“Just to let you know, you can access your frequent flyer account via our website.”
“I know, but my Internet server is down.”
“No problem. Just for verification, what’s your date of birth?”
I gave the date shown on Rebecca’s driver’s license. “And home address?”
Again I think thee, Ministry of Transportation. “And last, may I have your mother’s maiden name?” Why did everybody use that as their security question?
“Very good. Now how may I help you?”’
Jackson uses what she learns during that call to find out a great deal about Blackmore, and gets an important clue about Hanes, too. Here’s how she sums up how she feels about getting information:
‘I loved stupidity and naiveté, which described the way most people were when it came to privacy and security, especially online.’
In several other places in the novel, too, Jackson pretends to be someone else or to have a perfectly innocent purpose for a conversation in order to get the information she wants.
That snippet also gives a hint of Edmondson’s light touch in this novel. There’s a great deal of wit, some of it brilliantly sarcastic, and some comic moments. For instance, at one point Jackson persuades her former lover Mick Houghton to pretend to be her fiancé so she can ‘legitimately’ interview the wedding planner who’d arranged the Arvisais/Hanes wedding. Houghton plays along and their interview is (or perhaps this is just my view) really funny.
The characters in this novel are also an important element in it. There’s Jackson of course, who’s offbeat, witty and has a believable balance between being brave and being realistic. There’s also her best friend Lakshmi, who’s gone by the name of Lindsey for most of her life. Lindsey is a realtor who’s engaged to Jackson’s brother Shane. The two have been friends since seventh grade and Jackson knows she can always depend on Lindsey. And then there’s Shane, who is a chef at an upmarket restaurant. Jackson’s always happy to stop in and taste-test Shane’s latest creations, especially since she gets to try them for free – so long as she’s willing to sit in the hot, loud restaurant kitchen while she eats. Oh, and there’s Victor, a former client who’s fallen in love with Jackson. He’s eccentric and has, as she puts it, ‘a runamok mouth.’ She also wishes he would get the hint that she isn’t interested in him. But he is also loyal and devoted to her and in this novel he plays an important role.
Blood and Groom takes place in and around Toronto. It’s a quintessentially Canadian mystery, and the reader is placed there both geographically and culturally. This is one of those novels where the setting adds a great deal to the story:
‘Rebecca and I had walked along Bay Street then ended up on Prince Arthur Street and passed a lot of beautiful buildings that were now home to some of the University of Toronto’s fraternities.’
As Jackson searches for information, talks to family members and other witnesses and follows up on leads, we get a real sense of what Toronto is like.
Blood and Groom is a believable PI mystery that features a witty, likeable Sasha Jackson, a cast of interesting characters and a unique setting. The pacing keeps the reader engaged, and there are some really funny moments. But what’s your view? Have you read Blood and Groom? If you have, what elements do you see in it?
Coming Up On In The Spotlight
Monday 5 November/Tuesday 6 November – Executive Privilege – Phillip Margolin
Monday 12 November/Tuesday 13 November – The Paris Lawyer – Sylvie Granotier
Monday 19 November/Tuesday 20 November – Roger Sheringham and the Vane Mystery – Anthony Berkeley